Larry Brandt: TIA must grow

Nov. 1, 2011

Larry Brandt is a man who believes in education. As a college student, Brandt unloaded tires at a Minnesota warehouse on his summer break. He broke into the tire business full time in 1979 as a wholesale tire and antifreeze broker. In 1985 he merged that company with Tires Plus and he became the vice president of wholesale for the five-store company.

Brandt was named president of Tires Plus in 1995, a position he held until the company was sold to Morgan Tire & Auto in August of 2000. In the 15 years he was on the Tires Plus senior management team, the number of stores grew from five to 144. He was chairman of the Tire Alliance Groupe from 1998-2000, and is still a member.

In 2001 he started MSB Tires LLC with two former executives of Tires Plus, Dan Gullet and Tom Gegax (above). MSB operated seven Tires Plus licensees in Minnesota and Iowa until he sold that company to TBC Corp. in October 2010. He is currently president of the United Tire Group. He also started Brandt Marketing, a consulting company that helps tire dealers. He has a consulting agreement with Comdata Corp., which helps automotive fleet companies consolidate and control their fuel and maintenance.

As the Tire Industry Association’s (TIA) incoming president, he knows how important it is to stay educated in order to run a successful tire business. TIA represents all segments of the tire industry, and Brandt wants to help advance all of them.

Brandt has a unique perspective when it comes to running a tire business. He was president of Tires Plus when it was an independent retail chain. He remained involved when it became company-owned by Bridgestone Retail Operations LLC. He says there are not a lot of differences between running seven stores or 144 stores.

“Multi-store management always comes down to systems and people,” Brandt explains. “If an individual only had one store he would still have to have systems in place so the store could run efficiently when he wasn’t there. When you run a 144-store chain you have a lot of support people to do different functions such as marketing directors, trainers and purchasing agents.”

Brandt says smaller chain and individual store owners need to be aligned with strong suppliers that offer training and group discount programs for purchasing tires and parts. He believes that as a store owner, you need to be under some form of marketing umbrella.

“At corporate Tires Plus, before we sold, we were the umbrella,” he says. “As a licensee, we aligned ourselves under that same umbrella managed by Bridgestone/Firestone. There are many umbrellas out there. I feel you need to be under one of them to be successful.”

MTD: You have a strong retail background. How does TIA address the needs of retailers?

Brandt: I think the most important need that we meet for retailers is in training and education. TIA released the updated Automotive Tire Service (ATS) program this year and also launched the new advanced tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) Training Program. Both programs give technicians comprehensive training on passenger and light truck tire service including lifting, tire balancing, repairing, mounting/demounting/inflation, lug unit torque/clamping force and TPMS.

We have also released the 2011 version of our widely successful TPMS relearn procedures, as well as OE and popular aftermarket replacement part numbers and torque specs. Retailers who use our training programs and resources can reduce their liability and gain a competitive advantage with a qualified workforce.

We also have a new health insurance program for tire dealers. We continue to offer liability and workers’ comp insurance programs through our endorsed member benefit programs.


MTD: What legislative issues will you and TIA focus on over the next 12 months?

Brandt: Our top issues will be to be selected for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) consumer education program. Other top issues are to make permanent the repeal of estate tax, and to repeal or lessen the burden on mandatory health insurance.

We plan to extend the work opportunity tax credit to returning vets and disadvantaged youths. We also plan to push for the passage of H.R. 966 (the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act), to push for a five-year extension of the Federal Aid Highway Bill (with no motor fuel tax increases), and to oppose the privatization of highways, a national weight-distance tax, and any proposed increase of the FET on new truck tires.

We also want to repeal the retroactive liability provision of Superfund (which has tire dealers tied up in at least 31 states for proper disposal of tires, used oil, used batteries and filters). We want to repeal or end the Chinese tariffs. We have position papers on all of these issues. We also have initiated a state legislative/regulatory newsletter and will be more active and visible on that level.

MTD: What has TIA done to improve the Global Tire Expo (GTE)?

Brandt: TIA has expanded the education track to include Green@Noon. We have held meetings with all the tire manufacturers regarding having a presence at the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show, and have relayed feelings and concerns of manufacturers to SEMA’s board of directors. We will continue to work with SEMA to strengthen our partnership and ensure that the GTE will be the tire show for the industry.

MTD: Is overseeing the government-mandated national tire maintenance consumer education program still a priority?

Brandt: Our top legislative/regulatory goal is to have the National Training and Simulation Association (NTSA) outsource the tire consumer education program to TIA. We believe we are uniquely positioned with the tire manufacturers, retailers and consumers to make this a very meaningful and positive program.

MTD: How many members does TIA have? How many of those members are independent tire dealers?

Brandt: TIA has 5,595 members and approximately 80% are independent tire dealers (not a part of national chains).

MTD: As TIA president, what will be your agenda?

Brandt: In 2011 Mike Berra Jr. and myself started to transition TIA into an association that could not only survive but grow in the future. The association picture has changed in the recent economic downturn and I’m pleased to say that TIA is in a strong position now for the future, and is ready to grow and prosper. I plan to continue this transition and make TIA an even stronger association in the future.

In my view, TIA is about training and government affairs. We have an excellent training team led by Kevin Rohlwing and we need to capitalize more on that team. TIA needs to be the training center for all types of tires — and we will be.

There have never been more political issues that could affect the independent tire dealer than what is currently going on in Washington, D.C. TIA is extremely blessed to have an individual like Roy Littlefield to represent and lead our independent tire dealer needs. We will be communicating what’s going on in Washington and how it could affect dealers’ business more than ever before.

MTD: If you could accomplish one thing as TIA president, what would it be?

Brandt: Once I became a member of the TIA board, I was amazed that there wasn’t a better relationship between TIA and the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA). The two probably agree on 90% of the issues facing our industry today. We need to be talking to each other more. When there is common ground, we need to have the industry speak with one voice. When we don’t agree, we respectfully agree to disagree.