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Schizophrenic by design: Is it a traditional tire dealership? A performance center? The new Jack Williams Tire store caters to a variety of customers in a seamless manner

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Schizophrenic by design: Is it a traditional tire dealership? A performance center? The new Jack Williams Tire store caters to a variety of customers in a seamless manner

The original Jack Williams Tire store in Kingston, Pa., was bursting at the seams. What started as a two-bay store had expanded into a very busy, 11-bay outlet with little room left to breathe.

On days when automotive service work was particularly heavy, there were no openings for simple tire changes and rotations -- the bread and butter of any dealership. President Bill Williams knew something had to be done.

With a deference to the past, Williams purchased a building only 100 yards from the old store. He decided against starting from scratch because the building was located close to the road, protected from local setback laws by a grandfather clause.

He did gut the inside of the building, however, and proceeded to construct two separate tire dealerships under one roof. One was what Williams calls a traditional dealership, with a clean, unassuming showroom. The other was devoted to high performance tire and wheel customers, complete with a black and white checkerboard floor.

"We didn't want the whole (dealership) to look like a high performance store, because we thought it would chase away our traditional customers when they walked in," he says. "So we separated our high performance area from the traditional area." Only the service counter and "header" separate the two sides of the building.

"The high performance end is a separate division altogether," says Williams. "Different guys run it, different guys sell it, and different techs are trained strictly for high performance."

Growth plans

"We put a lot of work and a lot of thought into the layout," says Williams, who owns 22 stores in eastern and central Pennsylvania. "We took some of the features of our other stores and also some of the stores we had visited, things that we thought were efficient and aesthetically pleasing to the customer, and brought them together under one roof. This is the result."

Whereas the average Jack Williams Tire store covers 7,000 square feet and has eight bays on as much as an acre and a half of land, the new Kingston store encompasses nearly 20,000 square feet with 18 bays dedicated to a variety of services.

"Our plans are to open three to five stores a year over the next five years," says Williams. "It gets harder all the time because it takes so long getting all the permits. We can build a store in three to four months and it takes a year and a half to get all your plans approved and permits signed and environmental approvals. We have to do storm sewer runoff plans and every other plan you can think of."

Williams has six stores in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area, five each in Lehigh Valley and Pocono, four in Harrisburg, and one each in Berwick and Selingsgrove.

"We're going to focus on strengthening some of our newer markets, like Lehigh Valley."

Jack Williams Tire sold its commercial division two years ago to the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. Goodyear recently returned the favor by selling the dealership one of its Just Tires stores. "We just decided to concentrate on growing our wholesale and retail businesses and promoting our American Car Care Centers (ACCC) programs," says Williams, who also is president of ACCC.

Designated for assignment

"One of the problems you have when you are a full service dealership and are trying to schedule all your work in a limited amount of bays is that sometimes the automotive service interferes with the tire service," he says. "All of a sudden you have customers waiting too long for tires.

"People don't really want to wait for tires. People want to get their tires and get out of there."

Although Williams tries to designate bays for tire service at all his stores, the sheer size of the new building allows him to do even more than that.

"We have four bays which are strictly express tire bays -- that's it. We do tires and tire rotations. No oil changes in those bays, no state inspections." If a customer wants tires and an alignment or tires and an oil change, the tires are mounted and balanced in the express bays, and then moved to appropriate bays for the additional services.

Two of the bays are designated for alignments. "Instead of alignment racks we put in a double alignment pit (with drive-on racks)," says Williams. They not only solve the problem of dealing with lowered tuner cars, but also large, heavier-than normal vehicles.

"When you slam tuner cars, they have very little clearance. After you've slapped on the ground effects, you can't drive them up on a ramp or get a lift under them or you damage the cars. With drive-ons you have no clearance problems."

The racks have no weight restrictions like regular lifts, "so we can do motor homes... and one and a half-ton utility trucks (like) plumbers and carpenters use. A lot of times, especially with the plumbers, they come in and they have the truck loaded up so much that when you put it on a 12,000-pound lift it won't budge. But (with the alignment pits) you don't have that problem.

"It's an expensive investment," says Williams. "Plus you have to have (proper) air circulation, a drain and oil separator, and everything has to be explosion proof. There's a lot to them."

Family affair

Williams, 59, gets a little melancholy talking about the first Jack Williams Tire Co. Inc. store, opened by the company's namesake, his father, in 1954.

"I started when I was 12 years old helping my father, pumping gas after school," he says. "When I was old enough I changed tires. And we had a retread shop."

The original store expanded "in every direction we could. We got a lot of volume out of 11 bays." But it wasn't as efficient.

Buying the surrounding property and building allowed Williams to keep the old store's large customer base and stay close to home. "We live here, we know everyone. My two boys live two miles away."

His oldest son, Scott, is vice president and general manager of the business. His other son, Jason, is vice president of sales and a driving force behind the high performance shop.

Williams' daughter, Tracey, works in advertising and public relations for the company.

The old store remains nearby; it is being turned into a rent-to-own electronics and appliance store. Between the past and the present tire dealerships is a soon-to-be auto stereo store. Williams leases the land and the buildings to both parties.

Jack Williams, who died in 1995 at the age of 85, lived long enough to see his two-bay store turned into a thriving tire chain. The company's 100,000-square-foot headquarters in Moosic, Pa., built in 1988, includes a 60,000-tire warehouse, a training center and a health club. Jack Williams Tire sells Goodyear, Dunlop, Kelly, Michelin, BFGoodrich, Uniroyal, American, Continental, General, Falken and Toyo tires.

Today, Jack Williams Tire is one of the top 60 largest independent tire store chains in the United States, according to Modern Tire Dealer.

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