ROCHESTER, N.Y.-It's a whole new ballgame for Johnny Antonelli Tire Co. Inc., the upstate New York dealership that bears the name of its owner, a former major league baseball pitcher. With last month's sale of 17 former Antonelli Tire retail locations to Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., the 39-year-old independent tire dealership's future can be summed up in one word: commercial.
John Antonelli Jr., 36, president of the dealership for the past year and son of founder John Antonelli Sr., said that after evaluating the business, he felt ``our focus should best be put on our commercial/wholesale/Bandag retreading operation in Rochester.''
The company, which had revenue last year of $18.5 million, found itself in a number of markets he said were not performing to expectation, were ``somewhat out of our control in terms of distance,'' and whose economics ``were not necessarily in our favor.
``We had an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and refocus our business, which I felt had become stagnant....It was nice to be able to turn to a supplier we've had a relationship with for 40 years and work a deal with them.''
Patrons of the Rochester-based Antonelli Tire are being greeted by new Firestone Tire & Service Center signs at the old locations as well as other changes.
Gone, for instance, are the Goodyear tires which the Antonelli stores, to the shock of the industry, had begun carrying in September 1992, after a 35-year allegiance to Firestone and, more recently, Bridgestone brands.
A spokesman for BFS said by mid-July all former Antonelli locations-seven of which were leased from BFS-will be completely converted to Firestone operations.
``Johnny (Antonelli Jr.) came to us and said he wanted to downscale his business and get out of retail...,'' the spokesman explained. ``And of course, Bridgestone/Firestone wanted to keep some representation in that area. It was an opportunity for us to continue our growth and have a presence in that part of the country (where) there weren't any Firestone Tire & Service Centers.''
BFS, he added, is ``not out to try and buy out people,'' a point reinforced by Sunil Kumar, Bridgestone/Firestone Tire Sales president, who said in a June 23 statement that BFS was simply ``responding to a special situation for a dealer....''
Neither side would disclose financial details of the sale.
Mr. Antonelli emphasized that BFS ``did not rescue a bankrupt company,'' though he admitted ``a couple of the 17 stores were losers.'' He said ``our numbers with (BFS) actually grew significantly over the last year as we've focused on them as our major supplier. When we showed them the market share that can be attainable, the deal made sense for both sides.''
With a well-established customer base and an 80,000-sq.-ft. warehouse facility in Rochester, Mr. Antonelli said ``if there's a product or tire these Firestone stores need, we'll certainly distribute to them.''
Of two remaining Antonelli Tire retail locations not sold to BFS, one, in Canandaigua, N.Y., remains open; an outlet in Ithaca, N.Y., is closed while the company decides whether to reopen, rent, lease or sell it.
While Mr. Antonelli said there is a possibility BFS may yet buy those outlets, the tire maker's spokesman said the company is not interested.
Antonelli Tire's goal, according to its president, ``is to become a more complete dealer for our commercial customers and wholesale users than we were in the past. We should have been stronger in industrial, and had a better presence in the agricultural markets.''
He promised the dealership ``will emerge with a new retail format of our own that we can control in Rochester,'' and said he is considering joining BFS' Affiliated Dealer Program.
The current roster of BFS-owned Firestone Tire and Service Centers nationwide is 1,288, while Affiliated Dealer Program membership numbers about 700.
Part of his impetus for selling to BFS, Mr. Antonelli said, grew from what he saw as Antonelli Tire's inability to compete in some markets with big retail players like Goodyear's Just Tires outlets, a more aggressive BFS, mass merchandisers and discount clubs.
The company's commercial business covers five upstate New York counties with an estimated population of about 1 million. Business has been ``very consistent,'' according to Mr. Antonelli, with what he called an ``impressive, prestigious client list'' that includes local phone companies, Eastman Kodak Co., and a number of construction and other local businesses.
Antonelli Tire's commercial center in Rochester, which offers mechanical repairs and 24-hour service, will continue to carry Bridgestone, Firestone, Goodyear and Michelin lines, as will the remaining retail store. The company closed its in-house parts warehouse a year ago and liquidated its inventory.
A year ago the dealership made news when it ousted longtime president and CEO Joseph A. DePaolis, a past-president of the National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association who had been with the company 25 years. Mr. Antonelli, who had been vice president, corporate marketing, took over the helm.
He has a master's degree in business administration from the University of Rochester, and worked four years for Goodyear in Seattle before coming to Antonelli Tire in 1986, where he also has been a store manager and operations manager.
His father, a Rochester native, launched the dealership in 1955, reportedly with money he earned as a member of the New York Giants team that won the 1954 World Series. Though semi-retired, he remains the company's chairman.