'And in this corner...:' Top dealerships, distributors brawl for it all

July 1, 2001

It's been an action-packed 12 months for North America's largest independent tire dealerships and distribution groups as they continue to grapple for market dominance. Sales, acquisitions, openings and closings -- both large and small -- have dramatically rearranged the face of the industry.

Most companies reporting growth are expanding at a gradual pace, though some groups like Morgan Tire & Auto Inc. and Tire Kingdom Inc. have increased their store counts substantially. Others have chosen to trim their line-ups. The Heafner Tire Group sold off its 132-store Winston Tire retail chain two months ago, while AKH Co. Inc. has given more than 30 outlets the heave-ho.

Here's a quick run-down of some big dealers and distribution groups with an explanation on the changes they've undergone during the past year and their future plans.

Alton's Tire & Automotive, based in Spokane, Wash., opened two new 12-bay "superstores."

AM-PAC Tire Distributors gained three distribution centers in Texas with its buy-out of Tasco Inc.

Bauer Built Inc. acquired Fulton, Ill.-based tire distributor U.S. Wholesale Inc. in March. The buy-out gives Bauer distribution rights to Michelin and BFGoodrich brand farm tires in Iowa and Nebraska. Bauer also moved its Milwaukee, Wis.-based warehouse out to suburban Waukesha, Wis., last September. And the dealership has entered into an agreement to buy Great Plains Tire Center, a dealership headquartered in Lincoln, Neb.; the deal is expected to close by the middle of July.

Bauer Built's one-and-a-half-year-old associate dealer program, Tire Shop, has grown to 133 members. It is expected to have 200 members by the end of 2001.

Ben Tire Distributors Ltd. acquired six retail stores and two wholesale outlets, including three TBC Corp.-owned Big O retail shops in Lexington, Georgetown and Nicholasville, Ky. The stores now operate under Ben Tire's new Neal Tire Express Auto Service format that is specifically designed for metropolitan areas. The Toledo, Ill., company also acquired a McCord Tire outlet in Gibson City, Ill., and a Raben Tire Co. store in Mattoon, Ill., that specializes in farm tires.

Big O Tires met its full-year goal of having more than 480 retail stores in early June. Ten more stores are due to open by mid-summer. "Our expansion has been aided by the acquisition of some stores, but our focus remains on expanding through new franchised locations," says Larry Day, TBC Corp. president and CEO.

Bob Sumerel Tire Co. bought Erlanger, Ky.-based retailer Tire Treads and opened a new retail outlet in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Coast Tire & Auto Service Ltd. in St. John, New Brunswick, opened a new store.

Dobbs Tire & Auto Centers Inc. announced it will open three new 10,000-square-foot "superstores" later this year.

Dunlap & Kyle Co. Inc. unveiled a 90,000-square-foot warehouse in Lubbock, Texas.

Dunn Tire Corp. opened four new stores. Two more are scheduled to open by the end of this month.

Everybody's Oil Corp. opened three new outlets in Terra Haute, Fishers and Bloomington, Ind.

Heafner Tire Group, following its sale of Winston Tire Co., now operates roughly 30 retail stores under its Lincoln, Neb.-based T.O. Haas Tire Co. division. Last fall, Heafner bought American Tire Distributors, the wholesale arm of Merchant's Inc.; the deal gave Heafner nine additional warehouses. More recently, Heafner merged its California Tire and Competition Parts Warehouse operations into a single unit, Heafner Tire Group-Western Division. It also rolled out its Auto Edge dealer program last September.

Kauffman Tire Service opened a 20,000-square-foot distribution center in Medina, Ohio, last month. It also launched an e-commerce Web site, treadepot.com, where consumers can order tires and wheels on-line.

Kost Tire/Muffler revealed plans to open a new, eight-bay store in Vestal, N.Y., this September. "We've bought property for additional locations in New York," says co-owner Mike Kost.

Lake Tire Service Inc. added 12,000 square feet to its Wyoming, Mich., commercial center.

Les Schwab Tires, which broke the $1 billion annual sales barrier last year, added 15 new outlets.

Martin Tire Co. of El Paso, Texas, opened a new retail store and purchased a commercial/retail facility.

Merchant's Inc. announced plans last fall to double the size of its retail chain over the next three years.

Mr. Tire Inc. is building two more retail shops that will open by the end of 2001.

Moore's Retread & Tire Co. opened a new store in Baton Rouge, La.

Morgan Tire & Auto Inc. opened 38 "built-from-scratch" stores. The company also added more than 70 franchises when it acquired Team Tires Plus last summer. All Morgan Tire stores throughout the country will eventually adopt the Tires Plus name and signage, says company CEO Larry Morgan.

Mountain View Tire & Service Inc. acquired Tustin Tire, a Goodyear dealership in Tustin, Calif., and opened a new store in Las Vegas, Nev., under its Superior Tire name. Two new Mountain View-operated Superior Tire outlets were scheduled to open shortly after press time.

Mueller Tire & Brake Inc., based in Cleveland, Ohio, opened new stores in its home state.

Northwest Tire Factory LLC entered the Alaskan market this spring by signing three combination tire/quick-lube shops in Anchorage. The group, which also has members in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, California, Montana, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and Wyoming, is examining other options in the state, says CEO Nick Hodel.

OK Tire Stores Inc. has doubled its sales in Quebec thanks, in part, to its one-year-old distribution center there, according to OK President Don Blythe.

Plaza Tire Service opened a new retail shop.

Somerset Tire Service Inc. opened retail stores in Huntington and Massapequa, N.Y., and Bensalem, Pa. The company, which focuses on the Pennsylvania/New York/New Jersey area, will open outlets in Selden, N.Y., and Royersford, Pa., by the end of the year.

Sullivan Tire Co. Inc. entered the Maine retail tire market with the acquisition of three Yudy's Tire & Auto Service stores in Lewiston, Falmouth and Westbrook, Maine. Sullivan also opened a retail outlet in Bellricka, Maine, plus a new commercial facility in Revere, Mass.

In addition, the dealership bought Bangor, Maine-based Northeast Tire Co., one of the largest wholesalers in New England. "We are aggressively seeking to acquire and build," says Paul Sullivan, Sullivan Tire director of marketing.

Tire Centers LLC launched its T3 distribution program, which has signed 236 member-dealers. The program offers its own Trivant private brand tire plus units made by Michelin Americas Small Tires (MAST) and Continental Tire North America Inc.

Tire Kingdom Inc., a TBC Corp. subsidiary, added 25 outlets by acquiring Lucas Tire in Louisiana, Paul Lewis Tire in Florida and B&D Tire, which had stores in both Florida and Georgia. It also opened two new shops in Seffner and Inverness, Fla., and introduced an associate dealer program last March. "Our goal is to have as many associate dealers as Tire Kingdom has stores," says Mike Papi, Tire Kingdom vice president of corporate accounts.

Universal Cooperatives added 35 affiliated dealers to its line-up.

Warren Tire Service Center Inc., based in Queensbury, N.Y., is building another store.

The following companies also expanded during the past year: Discount Tire Co. Inc., Town Fair Tire Centers Inc., Vespia's, Colony Tire Corp. and Pomp's Tire Service.

These dealerships closed outlets: Penske Auto Centers Inc., Kramer Tire, Kal Tire, A to Z Tire & Battery Inc., Conrad's Tire Service Inc., VIP Discount Auto Centers, Kimmel Automotive Inc., AKH Co. Inc. and Tire Warehouse Central Inc.

Making their debuts on our Top 50 Independent Tire Store Chains and Top 20 North American Tire Distribution Networks lists are: Performance Management Inc., Rent-A-Tire Inc., Fletcher's Tire & Auto Service Inc., Tire Discounters Inc., Morgan Tire & Auto Inc. (replacing Tires Plus as a distribution group) and Tire Centers LLC/T3. Both Action-Gator Tire Stores Inc. and Grismer Tire Co. return to the list after being edged out last year.