ANCHORAGE, Alaska-A recent spate of development by the nation's largest retailers has many local merchants in Alaska's largest city hunkering down waiting to see what the impact will be. But an Anchorage-based independent tire dealership has taken a decidedly different tack. With Kmart Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in the midst of large-scale development projects, Johnson's Tire Service (J.T.S.) is building its own $6 million, 26-bay automotive center.
By its scheduled opening April 1, the new J.T.S. tire and auto service ``supercenter'' will have to compete with the two largest standard Kmart outlets in the country, two new Wal-Mart stores and a renovated Sears, Roebuck and Co. outlet-all of which have already been completed or will be completed early this year-in a city of no more than 240,000 residents.
The supercenter project is ambitious but heading in the direction local dealers must turn, according to J.T.S. owner Jim Johnson, who said he believes consumers in the Anchorage area believe in ``the J.T.S. reputation'' for good service.
``We've got the reputation in the county'' as a respectable tire dealership, Mr. Johnson said. ``We're going to make it. Everything we do is express-30 minutes or less.''
For J.T.S., the supercenter is both an expansion of services into a massive, 77,000-sq.-ft. building and a method of telling area consumers the company, as an independent dealership, is a better alternative-even when compared to lower-priced warehouse clubs.
At the supercenter, typical J.T.S. tire and automotive services, including alignments, balancing and brake work, will be augmented with a fully automatic J.T.S. Pro-Wash Express station and the J.T.S. Pro-Lube Express service.
``We don't currently do oil changes, but that is the No. 1 request from our customers,'' Mr. Johnson said of the decision to create the express lube service. ``If you are able to show the customer why he should buy from you, then you'll get the customer. That is exactly what we are doing.''
The J.T.S. supercenter will be the first facility in the Anchorage area where a customer can get an oil change, a set of tires and a car wash in one stop, Mr. Johnson said.
``There is nothing up here like it,'' he said. ``Would you rather go to three different places to get your car done if there was one place that did it all?''
Despite Mr. Johnson's confidence in the supercenter project, the president of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce said many other local business owners have opted to cautiously watch the rash of commercial development.
``How much can be absorbed by this population base?'' asked Carol Heyman, chamber president, adding that she sees no firm reasons for companies to believe the local economic situation is changing.
``They can't point to anything and say, `We project there is going to be a population boom.' '' Ms. Heyman said. ``They can't point to anything that projects a boom of any sort.''
Regardless of the economic conditions, Mr. Johnson said he believes the supercenter will strengthen J.T.S.' position against competition traditionally feared by independent dealers.
``Most local businesses up here are not really expanding-they're concerned about the development,'' he said. ``We're kind of taking another road. We're saying we're going to be more aggressive.''
Mr. Johnson said he has always tried to be aggressive and ``different'' when it comes to attracting and retaining customers.
Last summer he ran a television and newspaper advertising campaign billing J.T.S.' four outlets as ``supermarkets,'' hoping, he said, to suggest people should shop for tires with as much choice and care as they do their food.
And during the holiday season he created gift certificates for J.T.S. locations and even sold them at a discount.
Both campaigns were successful, he said. ``We're getting people to come in. That's the point.''
Mr. Johnson hopes the supercenter also will ``get people in,'' and said the store will have an attractive brick exterior, a well-lit interior and a 3,000-sq.-ft. showroom ``to appeal to customers who want quick, professional service.''
Construction crews already have completed the foundation and laid the blacktop for the 30-ft.-high facility, which is being built on 4.2 acres of land, Mr. Johnson said. When finished, it will also contain a 41,000-sq.-ft. warehouse.
Operations at the original J.T.S. location, three blocks away, will be moved into the complex. The company's inventory, currently being stored in a leased warehouse, also will be relocated.
Mr. Johnson said he fully expects the convenience of the supercenter to ``take business away from everyone else.''
``Most dealers are price concerned, but it isn't all price...it isn't all service. It's all commitment'' to the customer, he said.