Dateline Shanghai, part two: tire dealer secrets

Bob Ulrich
Posted on June 20, 2010
Brenda Leblanc (left), with Jose and Lucy Rios at the Italy Pavilion.
Brenda Leblanc (left), with Jose and Lucy Rios at the Italy Pavilion.

In my 25 years at Modern Tire Dealer, I have never interacted with a more eclectic group of tire dealers and their wives than I did on our recent trip to Shanghai, China.

The trip was set up by execs (and Donna Rosman) at China Manufacturers Alliance LLC (CMA), a subsidiary of Double Coin Holdings Ltd. While the dealers were good guests, they never forgot why they were there: to see two of Double Coin's commercial tire factories. They were interested in what Double Coin supplied (truck and small OTR tires), what it was on the verge of supplying (giant OTR tires) and what it wanted to supply in the near future (ag tires).

They even asked about passenger tires, which CMA, in the past, has claimed was a future goal. "Two or three years," said CMA President Mike Yang. (Look for the report on Double Coin's plans in MTD's July issue.)

How different were the dealers? Perhaps their eating habits will give you a clue. Two were vegetarians. One was a Chinese food gourmet who could wield chop sticks like a tire gauge. One brought peanut butter crackers to meals, just in case.

It was one heck of a trip. Here are my mini-profiles on the dealers.

Ricky Benton Sr., Black's Tire Service, Whiteville, N.C. Ricky was joined by his son, Ryan, and they are much more than two fun-lovin' country boys. At one point, Ricky wanted to understand the relationship between CMA and his competition -- he wasn't complaining, he was fact-finding. That was my favorite question of the week, reasonable and bold.

Dan and Kim Jensen, Love's Travel Stops, Oklahoma City, Okla. The youngest couple on the trip, both enjoy shopping. Kim shopped for purses; Dan shopped for golf clubs -- and a third-tier truck tire line for Love's nearly 230 stores.

Ross and Lynne Kogel, Tire Wholesalers Inc., Troy, Mich. Ross was one part tourist, two parts businessman in his quest to get a better handle on Double Coin, one of his Chinese suppliers. His wife was the event's unofficial photographer. The worldly couple are best friends in the truest sense of the phrase.

Art and Brenda Leblanc, Pete's Tire Barns Inc., Orange, Mass. Art, vice president of Pete's, has been with the company for more than 30 years. His wife was a big hit in China because she was blonde. Speaking of hits, they are huge (some might say obsessive) Beatles fans, but if you are going to pick a favorite band, you can't go wrong with the Fab Four.

Jose and Lucy Rios, Lucy's Tires Inc., Medley (near Miami), Fla. Jose, a former bullfighter, exports tires through Lucy's and wholesales them domestically through his Falcon Tire Center operation. The seven Falcon Tire Centers also retail tires. Her ability to haggle with the locals over merchandise is a superpower.

Rick and Jan (Melanie) Stewart, Action Tire Co., Forest Park, Ga. Perhaps the most indelible image of the trip was Rick, always smiling, with a cigar in his mouth. His wife, unbelievably, out-pursed Kim Jensen.

Jim Parkhouse, Parkhouse Tire Inc., Bell Gardens, Calif. He was traveling alone, but was just as comfortable with the group as he was relaxing with a glass of wine. Even in his 70s, he is still heavily involved in the business, with three sons working for him.

Verdo Gregory, Commercial Tire, Fresno, Calif. Verdo was the real trooper, trudging around the World Expo on a bad knee and not complaining. Ask him sometime about how 100 pounds of fish can be worth a $2.50 case of beer.

Jim and CMA Vice President Aaron Murphy were huge Los Angeles Lakers fans, and followed the series by smartphone. Art and Ross were Boston Celtic fans. All I'll say is that there was a little trash talking going on.

As for me, I tried to keep everyone posted on the Cleveland Indians scores. Because of the 12-hour time difference, the games were in progress the previous night while we were traveling in the a.m. To the best of my knowledge, no dealer ever asked me about the score.

Related Topics: Cleveland Indians, Modern Tire Dealer, OTR tires, truck tires

Bob Ulrich Editor
Comments ( 1 )
  • Art

     | about 9 years ago

    Bob, It was a lof fun spending time with you in Shanghai. As I recall you know quit a bit about the worlds best band, THE BEATLES. You also know a little about the tire business. :)

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