LOUISVILLE, Ky.-Once it was North America's largest chain of independently owned tire dealerships and retread shops-with more than 1,000 members, united under a common name and sharing the same patented tire repairing process. Today, except in the Canadian provinces, the scattered remnants of what originally was the O.K. Rubber Welders group are largely unknown to one another-having little in common other than their continued use of the ``O.K.'' name.
But this could change in months to come.
An effort is under way to identify and contact owners of the remaining O.K. tire dealerships in the U.S. to learn if they're interested in reorganizing as a group.
Spearheading the effort is John Wagner, former managing director of the American Retreaders' Association, who has been serving as a marketing consultant for the Canadian O.K. group.
Mr. Wagner estimates there are 250-300 U.S. dealerships still using the O.K. name-perhaps even enough to justify the creation of an O.K. brand of private label tires, he suggests.
He'd like to identify them and possibly call a meeting for such discussions this fall in Englewood, Colo., where O.K. Rubber Welders once was based, or in Dallas, where the gathering might be timed to coincide with the annual convention of the National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association, Sept. 9-11.
Anyone wishing to contact Mr. Wagner may do so in care of Tire Marketing Services, P.O. Box 628, Prospect, Ky. 40059; (502) 228-8611.
Efforts at reorganizing O.K. dealers in the U.S. are expected to receive at least tacit support from Canada's O.K. Tire Stores Inc., a chain of independently owned dealerships based in Langley, British Columbia.
The Canadian member-owned corporation is largely made up of O.K. dealers who, unlike their U.S. counterparts, stayed together as a group after the original O.K. Rubber Welders franchise organization began to disintegrate more than 30 years ago.
Also offering his assistance in the project is veteran Littleton, Colo., dealer Norman Affleck, who was one of the earliest members of the original O.K. Rubber Welders organization.
Mr. Affleck was one of a small number of dissident franchise holders who departed the O.K. fold in 1962 to found Englewood, Colo.-based Big O Tires Inc., which today is the largest independent retail tire dealership franchiser in North America.
Mr. Affleck served as president of the Big O group from its inception until 1984, when he left to run a passenger tire retreading operation in Albuquerque, N.M.
He said O.K. founder Harold James launched the company during the early 1930s, franchising a tire repair process that used electrically heated section repair molds. Retreading later became an integral part of the franchise.
Three decades later, after many franchisees had become dissatisfied and departed for greener pastures, according to Mr. Affleck, the company was sold to Ashland Oil Co. Ultimately, Ashland quit the retreading business and allowed the copyright on the O.K. tradename to expire. Therefore, Mr. Wagner expects little difficulty on that front.
From its vantage point north of the border, Canada's O.K. Tire Stores is likely to welcome the existence of a counterpart organization in the states, believes Dennis Marshall, the group's national franchise coordinator.
However, Mr. Marshall said it's premature to speculate over the possibility of affiliating the two groups.
Nevertheless, ``it would be nice to know if there was a group out there (in the U.S.) we could talk to,'' he said.
Canada's O.K. Tire Stores group has 123 dealer members, mostly in western Canada, each of whom owns one share of stock in the corporation. The group's 1993 sales were estimated at about $90 million (U.S. dollars).