AKRON-Canadian tire dealers are maintaining a ``watch-and-see'' stance as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. hangs its signs and changes operations at the 120 former Woolco stores the firm acquired from Woolworth Corp.'s Canadian subsidiary in January. The dealers have a right to be apprehensive of the newcomer to the Canadian market. Wal-Mart is a Bentonville, Ark.-based retail giant that has built its empire on aggressive pricing policies.
Yet several of the largest independent tire dealers in Canada anticipate Wal-Mart will concentrate on going head-to-head on price with other merchandisers, such as Canadian Tire Corp., Kmart Corp., Sears, Roebuck and Co. and the warehouse clubs.
They also surmise that tires and automotive services are a low priority for Wal-Mart, which also sells clothing, housewares and tools.
``The people who shop there aren't really the tire store customer,'' said Don Blythe, president of O.K. Tire Stores Inc. in Langley, British Columbia.
But, he added, his dealership's mechanical business benefited when Wal-Mart stopped providing the auto services Woolco offered.
``The biggest fear initially up here was:...Would they come in with major brand products and really disrupt the market?'' he said. So far Wal-Mart has carried mostly associate and private label tires.
Unimax Tire Ltd., which operates 68 franchises in Quebec, hasn't felt the effect of Wal-Mart pricing in its market. In fact, according to General Manager Alain Forest, Unimax sales are on the rise.
``Tires do not seem to be a priority for (Wal-Mart) right now,'' noted Brian Hesje, president of Edmonton, Alberta-based Fountain Tire Corp. ``Their targets are more Sears and Canadian Tire, more so than the independent dealer.''
But the arrival of Wal-Mart into Canada nonetheless ``made us all hitch our drawers up a bit,'' Mr. Hesje added.