CLEARWATER, Fla.-In a quiet, little-publicized deal, Tire Marketers Association (TMA), the exclusive national distributor of the Sonic private brand, now belongs to the line's biggest volume dealer. But that sale may be shortlived.
TMA presently is weighing offers from four other suitors, and is expected to reach a decision by late this month whether it will accept one of them.
Two years after its acquisition by Big O Tires Inc. to become the tire franchiser's wholesale division, Clearwater-based TMA, a predominantly eastern U.S. distributor, has been purchased by Carr's Tire Service Inc. of Harrisonburg, Va., which does business as Big L Tire Inc.
According to Big O's recent 10-K filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, sometime during the first quarter of 1995 the company completed the $65,000 cash sale of the assets, trademarks and copyrights of TMA, which marketed non-Big-O-branded products to retailers outside the Big O system.
With various expenses factored in, a TMA official said the cost to Big L Tire exceeded $100,000.
TMA was launched in 1964 as Tire Brands Inc. Big O, of Englewood, Colo., bought the firm June 1, 1993, then changed the name to Tire Marketers Association as part of a plan to become more dominant on the East Coast. At that time, 80 percent of TMA's sales were east of the Mississippi.
Another reason Big O originally cited for the acquisition was to bolster purchase volumes with its then-primary supplier, General Tire, which made the Big O and Sonic brands, which Tire Brands/TMA marketed.
But shortly thereafter, Big O switched most of its production to Kelly-Springfield Tire Co. and sources said TMA then found it was no better off than before Big O acquired it.
TMA President Don Dominguez said the group's original six shareholders approached Big O this past January about reacquiring TMA and, in a closed bid process, Big L Tire won out, taking over the operation April 1.
Terry Bowman, president of Big L, told TIRE BUSINESS that TMA is now a division of the company. ``Basically, we're regrouping. We've signed three new dealers since April 1. The Sonic product line seems to be in demand right now, . . . and the deal looks like it's going to be good for us.''
He said the company sold some of TMA's trademarks to Continental General Tire Inc. because the tire maker ``had a lot of money invested and was afraid TMA might end up in the wrong hands, and the Sonic name would end up overseas somewhere.''
Big L Tire-a wholesale/retail/commercial dealership with six outlets-is ``in the process of forming a new (Sonic) buying group through TMA,'' Mr. Bowman added. The company also does truck tire retreading and handles Laramie, Michelin and McCreary brand new tires.
As TMA embarks in a new direction and contemplates another sale, Mr. Dominguez said the company will do ``what's in the best interest of the group and its growth.'' The potential buyers, he noted, ``are a lot more affluent than we are.
``. . . For another company to buy us out would open up new avenues of distribution,'' he added.
TMA currently has 14 members, he said, ``who we consider direct Sonic accounts,'' plus 28 associate accounts that buy from direct members of either of TMA's primary tire programs-Sonic or Ohtsu.
This past January the company also began handling products from Santa Clarita, Calif.-based Dynastar International.
TMA also is ``researching and investigating different avenues to create a retail umbrella focusing on the retail stores in our group,'' Mr. Dominguez said, ``and we'll be discussing that with a couple of tire manufacturers.''
As for the Sonic line, it appeared to have fallen on hard times in the last few years.
Both Mr. Bowman and Mr. Dominguez agreed the situation was precipitated in part by Big O's move away from General Tire.
TMA had a ``very difficult'' 1994, he admitted. ``Some dealers. . . felt that since Big O was moving to Kelly, the strength of the TMA group would be weakened-and they were right. But it was a temporary situation.''
The company's sales for 1995 are ``well ahead'' of last year, he said, when total TMA group purchases for its Sonic and Ohtsu programs was in excess of $20 million.
Mr. Dominguez said TMA recently picked up a new Sonic member with 22 retail stores on the West Coast.