Southern Tire Mart at Pilot Flying J Eyes Fast Growth
'The Landscape is Changing'
Announced this past January, Southern Tire Mart at Pilot Flying J is a “game changer,” according to Jim Duff.
“And we have to make it work,” adds Tommy Duff.
The joint venture will set up 200 locations within the next two-and-a-half years, says John Boynton, its president. Forty outlets are already operational.
“The volume that goes through the truck stop channel — from a tires and service standpoint — is small compared to the traditional tire dealership model. But it is a highly trafficked channel and a critical supply point.”
Southern Tire Mart and Pilot Flying J “are very similar in that they are family businesses. There are a lot of parallels. You also have a very strong brand name on the Pilot side and a very strong brand name on the Southern Tire Mart side.”
Southern Tire Mart at Pilot Flying J is a “natural extension” of Southern Tire Mart’s existing operation, says Boynton.
It pushes the Southern Tire Mart brand into new areas where the dealership doesn’t have a presence. And it provides fleets with a consistent experience, regardless of location, he adds.
“We think that’s where the market is moving and the customer base is moving. They’re saying, ‘I don’t want to do this with 20 different service providers. I want to do this with one or maybe two.’
“Southern Tire Mart at Pilot Flying J really kind of changes the game in how we go to market. It says, ‘We have a network that’s going to be consistent with what you (receive) locally.’
“We’re trying to make it as seamless as we possibly can for the customer. When they come into a Southern Tire Mart at Pilot Flying J, they should receive the same” level of service as they would find at a traditional Southern Tire Mart location.
Service offerings vary a bit, according to Boynton. “At Southern Tire Mart at Pilot Flying J, we’re doing a lot more mechanical work than we would do at a Southern Tire Mart store,” including preventive maintenance, truck inspections and more.
“We can do those very, very effectively.”
More complicated jobs — like engine repair — are farmed out to specialists. “We want customers to be in and out in two hours. And we don’t want to tie up our bays for six hours at a time.”
Every Southern Tire Mart at Pilot Flying J location stocks retreads — the vast majority of which are manufactured at Southern Tire Mart plants.
“For locations outside of our footprint, we’re partnering with other Bandag retreaders to be that provider and it’s worked out really well.”
Some Southern Tire Mart at Pilot Flying J locations are running around the clock “and our goal is to get all locations to 24/7 service.” (Existing locations already operate emergency roadside service trucks on a 24/7 basis.)
Speed of service “will be a key differentiator for us,” says Boynton. Long waits “are probably one of the biggest challenges in the truck stop channel right now.”
Most Southern Tire Mart at Pilot Flying J stores will be greenfield locations.
“We have a (standard) look and a feel because consistency is so important. It’s no different than a hotel chain. I know the experience I will have if I go to a Marriott property. I know it will be very consistent. We want to look, feel and operate the same way, too.”
Boynton says deadlines to recoup initial investments will vary by location.
“I don’t think we’re as deeply concerned about ‘It has to turn a profit by this or that time.’
“If it takes two years to get there, that’s OK — as long as we’re building a culture and providing service that customers want.”
Customer demand will continue to dictate where Southern Tire Mart at Pilot Flying J sets up outlets, he explains.
“I recently had an opportunity to sit down with a customer who said, ‘How fast can you build this thing? Forty locations is nice, but that’s nowhere near the saturation we want to see.’
“So we have to move very, very fast. The goal is to create that network. And Tommy and Jim want us to move at the speed that’s needed to get these stores up and running very quickly.”