LONG BEACH, Calif.-After bowing out of the wholesale tire business late last year, Tire Masters Inc. is back. Well, sort of.
TMI has been resurrected-at least in name only-by West Coast-based private brand tire marketer Greenball Corp.
The old TMI was a subsidiary of Japan's Nissho Iwai Corp., which also owns Nitto Tires. But Nissho claimed TMI couldn't be competitive. So it pulled the plug on the business in December and sold several TMI warehouses and most of its inventory, equipment and assets to Competition Parts Warehouse (CPW), a large San Jose, Calif.-based wholesale distributor of tires, wheels and auto parts.
However, Greenball, with headquarters in Long Beach, purchased a former TMI warehouse in Portland, Ore., and reintroduced the wholesale operation as ``TMI by Greenball Corp.''
The hope is that independent tire dealers familiar with the TMI name will patronize the new version, according to Jenny Tsai, vice president of Greenball Corp. and co-owner along with her husband, Chris, the firm's president.
``We're B-a-a-a-ck!'' crowed a recent TMI advertisement in North, the newsletter of the Northwest Tire Dealers Association.
The man in charge of getting the TMI ``revival'' off the ground is regional manager Mike Myers. He operates out of the Portland warehouse, oversees new TMI-by-Greenball facilities that recently opened in Tacoma and Spokane, Wash., and also is helping launch a wholesale distribution center in Sacramento, Calif., that soon will be up and running under the name Greenball Tire & Wheel.
At the end of the old TMI's lifespan, Mr. Myers was branch manager of its Portland facility and ran a now-closed Kent, Wash., branch. The Portland warehouse has since been expanded from 31,000 square feet up to 54,000 square feet; the new Tacoma building is 26,000 square feet; the warehouse in Spokane is 20,000 square feet; and the Sacramento site is 48,000 square feet.
Greenball-which has primarily marketed a wide variety of specialty tires covering a range from wheel chairs to garden tractors to mobile homes-``is in a pretty rapid growth pattern,'' Mr. Myers said, acknowledging that the company's ``ultimate goal'' is to have at least 15 wholesale locations.
Ms. Tsai said plans call for opening two or three more warehouses in 1995, targeting San Jose and possibly Salt Lake City.
The company also has distribution centers in Long Beach, Lancaster, Pa., Waycross, Ga., and Elkhart, Ind.
Mr. Myers said business has been ``very good,'' though there were ``some real low periods'' following TMI's somewhat hasty exit. The Portland site typically carries 1.5 million tires and wheels in inventory, but lost customers when it sank to 300,000 units at one point. He said it has gradually made a comeback.
So have a number of former TMI employees who were rehired by Greenball and, Mr. Myers said, have provided experience and a sense of stability to a company still finding its way in a crowded, highly competitive marketplace.
``. . . We're working with several different tire manufacturers. One of the things we'd like to be able to do is sell the same brands in all the warehouses,'' he said. But because of brand commitments in particular areas, some lines are not available while others are specific to a location.
Currently, most TMI locales carry passenger and light truck tires branded by General, Continental, Hoosier, Dunlop, Nitto, Laramie, Hallmark, Barum, Cheng Shin, Towmaster, Centennial, Marshall, Kumho, Cupples tubes, plus Greenball's private label specialty tires, Secura steel wheels, and Prestige, Ultra, Optima and Liberty aluminum wheels. (CPW now markets the Nitto brand.)
Ms. Tsai said some of the Greenball Tire & Wheel locations may eventually handle truck and farm tires, as well.
The warehouses promise same-day deliveries within local metropolitan areas, Mr. Myers said, and once- or twice-weekly deliveries in outlying areas.
Until the old TMI ``fell on its face,'' as Mr. Myers put it, business at its Portland warehouse had grown by almost 10 percent annually.
Then Tire Masters' employees began hearing rumblings of the company folding, and within months things soured.
While the firm had ``a lot of talented people,'' he said, its ``oppressive'' layers of management and paperwork made it nearly impossible to operate efficiently.
In order to travel from Portland to Spokane, for instance, Mr. Myers said he needed to fill out a trip request telling the company where he was going, why, for how long, how much he would spend, and who he would see.
Then, the travel request had to be approved by a TMI divisional manager, the vice president of finance, and the CEO.
``That's three steps beyond ridiculous,'' he said.
On the other hand, when the new TMI was getting off the ground, Mr. Myers said he and Greenball President Chris Tsai set up practically the entire program ``mostly over the phone.''