TORONTO-It's a wonder all independent tire dealers don't have chronic stiff necks-from constantly looking over their shoulders at the competition. As if they didn't have enough to worry about, yet another well-known name is trying to procure a king's ransom in sales in the automotive service industry.
Last November, Canadian-owned and -operated Speedy Muffler King Inc., for 36 years an under-the-car repair specialist, ventured into Canada's lucrative $500 million lube, oil and filter (LOF) service market-about the same time the chain launched a similar effort in the U.S.
That followed a move the Toronto-based company made in March 1993 to add tire sales, mounting, balancing and alignment services to its already established exhaust, brakes and suspension specialties.
As a matter of fact, John Manion, vice president and general manager, Canadian operations, is calling Speedy ``one of the largest'' Michelin- and BFGoodrich-brand tire retailers in Canada.
The name of the game continues to be ``customer service,'' and the addition of LOF and tires ``enables us to provide a wider range of under-the-car products and service,'' Mr. Manion said when the company rolled out LOF in Canada.
``Leading suppliers-such as Castrol, Walker, Michelin, BFGoodrich, Monroe and Hunter,'' he noted, give ``our customers added value, quality, and the most up-to-date technology available.''
The addition of tires and alignments to Speedy's roster was so well received in Canada that it prompted the company to add LOF. ``Customer demand and convenience have been the deciding factors in expanding our menu of services,'' he said.
As yet, the tire program has not been fully implemented throughout the chain's 150 company-owned and five franchise shops in Canada, but will expand on a store-by-store basis-depending on the availability of in-store space for alignment racks, according to Craig Robinson, Speedy's director of marketing in Canada.
A similar approach has been taken in the U.S., where at least half the chain's 204 company-owned and some of its 12 franchise shops now offer LOF services, and began selling tires and alignments about the same time as their Canadian counterparts.
Bill Catlin, Speedy's U.S. director of marketing, said the company has been gradually rolling out the tires and alignment program in the States, and should have it fully implemented by the end of 1994.
Speedy's U.S. outlets are concentrated in the Northeast, from New England south to the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. area, and west to Ohio and Michigan.
In the Midwest, the company also operates 54 shops and has 100 franchises under the Car-X banner, a chain acquired by Speedy several years ago that offers the same services as Speedy shops.
Originally, Speedy began limited tire marketing about a year ago, selling private label Atlas tires in some Canadian areas. ``We enjoyed some pretty good initial success,'' Mr. Robinson said, ``and that led us to investigate ways of expanding our tire business.''
Speedy views its LOF and tire programs as ``a growing part of our ongoing expansion plans,'' he said, adding that in Canada the availability of Michelin and BFG products will eventually spread coast to coast. The company has a heavy concentration of shops in the Toronto and Ontario areas.
Mr. Robinson would only say Canadian tire sales volume ``has been substantial, and we expect that to increase as people begin to realize we offer tires and related services.''
While the chain's competitors vary depending on product area, he listed Midas International Corp. for exhaust work, Canadian Tire Corp., and ``other independent (tire) dealers, who are focusing increasingly on automotive service in addition to tires.''
Mr. Catlin said Speedy's U.S. tire sales are ``fine-we're doing what we expected to do.'' He would not divulge specifics, nor what percentage of the chain's business tires, alignments and LOF account for, but did say ``we expect them to be significant contributors.... We are making substantial investments in equipment and inventory to get into these programs.''
The company began selling tires, he said, because ``it's a service to our customers and a logical extension of our undercar specialty area.'' Unlike the exclusivity of Michelin products in the Canadian operation, Mr. Catlin said Speedy decides market-by-market on tire suppliers for U.S. shops ``based on cost and value of brand name.''
``Our interest is in presenting a quality brand name to our customers. Obviously, the tire business is highly competitive (and) those considerations are very much a part of our cost structure.... We get the best deal we possibly can get (from our suppliers.)''
Some areas in the U.S. have been slow in rolling out the tire program.
John Emmitt, a Speedy supervisor for the Cleveland/Akron marketing area, said he expected alignment racks and tire-related equipment might be installed by March in his area's shops.
He called the LOF business ``pretty lucrative-we have some very good markets, and some very bad ones. It all depends on whether or not the guys push (LOF). When we run sales, we do excellent with them. When we don't, we hardly sell anything.
``I use LOF as kind of a come-on to sell off on our other services, but it is a good convenience for the customers.''
Mr. Emmitt emphasized he's seen ``very little call'' for tire-related services in his marketing area, and, ``from the reports I've seen, (Speedy's) tire sales have been very good in Canada, and very poor in the U.S.''
A Michelin Americas Small Tires spokesman would not confirm whether Speedy Muffler is in fact one of the tire maker's largest retailers in Canada.
He did say ``nearly 90 percent of Michelin's sales in Canada are through independent tire dealers.''
Speedy Muffler recently reported higher sales and profits for the third quarter of 1993 as a result of continuing growth in revenues from all its major product lines. Fred Karp, president and CEO, said the company's strong showing reflected ``significant increases in brake service revenue in both North America and Europe and the successful launch of tires, front end and alignment in additional markets.''