NORRISTOWN, Pa.-The bouncing Sonic private label tire line-and its distributor, Tire Marketers Association (TMA)-have landed again. This time, they've been lassoed, for an undisclosed sum, by Laramie Tire Distributors Inc. It was only this past spring that Clearwater, Fla.-based TMA was sold by Big O Tires Inc. to one of TMA's original six shareholders and one of Sonic's biggest customers, Carr's Tire Service Inc. of Harrisonburg, Va., which does business as Big L Tire Inc.
At that time Terry Bowman, president of Big L, said the firm purchased TMA, and especially Sonic, to keep it from falling into the ``wrong hands,'' ending up ``.*.*.*possibly overseas somewhere.''
Following that deal, he said several other suitors were still interested in TMA, hinting it could be sold again-if the right buyer came along.
Norristown-based Laramie Tire won the bidding among an estimated three or four companies, and finalized the purchase from Big L in July.
In the end, Laramie President and CEO Wayne Reichman said the deal hinged, in part, on procurement of a revised supply agreement with Continental General Tire (CGT), manufacturer of the Sonic brand.
Laramie bought TMA and the rights to use the Sonic name. After reaching a specific performance level, or quota, ``we'll (own) the Sonic name,'' he said.
Sonic will have a separate sales office and become a division of Laramie. TMA will probably no longer exist, although its president, Don Dominguez, will be retained to promote and sell the Sonic brand for Laramie, according to Mr. Reichman.
Laramie's roster already includes the Laramie and Telstar brands, and Runway, a new private label the company recently introduced to the U.S. That line is manufactured by P.T. Gadjah Tunggal of Indonesia and is owned by G.T. Tire U.S.A., a division of Gadjah Tunggal's U.S. subsidiary, Seyen Trading Inc.
The fate of other brands marketed by TMA is currently under negotiation, he added.
A regional brand predominantly in the Southeast-80 percent of TMA's sales were east of the Mississippi-Sonic has faltered in recent years. But the latest acquisition should give it a needed boost via Laramie's nationwide distribution network and the possibility of export, as well.
Laramie has a customer base of between 800 and 1,000 accounts while its Telstar Tyre & Rubber Co. subsidiary, also in Norristown, ``reaches out to many-thousand retail outlets,'' Mr. Reichman said.
He foresees an ``increase in sales immediately,'' predicting that within the first six months Sonic will pick up by more than 10 percent because ``it can be built very easily all over the country.
``It's a brand that has been floundering without any direction or leadership for several years. People in the program are loyal and want it to work. . . .''
Last year Laramie and Telstar inked a long-term supply agreement with their principal supplier, Kelly-Springfield Tire Co. Partly because of that, Laramie sought another brand in order to be more of a one-stop shopping provider for its customers.
``Sonic can be a very, very viable brand for Laramie/Telstar customers, or any other Kelly accounts where we can't sell the Laramie brand,'' Mr. Reichman said.
``These guys are all buying a line from us and a less-expensive non-Kelly leader line from elsewhere. . . Now I can have my customers buy that leader line from me. . . .''
Though Mr. Reichman would not divulge the acquisition price, when Big L bought TMA earlier this year it paid in excess of $65,000 for TMA's assets, trademarks and copyrights.
He promised to ``make a real brand out of (Sonic)-with point-of-display material, help, and sales people, as opposed to just a brokered brand. . . .''
Existing Sonic dealers won't notice any change, he said, ``except things will be better. There will be more tires, more lines, and eventually the Sonic name will go on the tire-something they don't even have now.''
Concerning the sale, Big L's Mr. Bowman said: ``We needed volume and felt (Laramie) could give us the national recognition we needed to get our volume up. . . . They work well in the existing distributorships we have with Sonic. . . .''
Big L has handled the Laramie and Sonic brands for years and, he said, ``they go hand-in-hand, complement each other and give the consumer a different look.
``I think things are going to go well for Sonic in the future.''