LYNDHURST, N.J.—As Englewood Tire Distributors Inc. marks its 50th year in business, the company is striving to shift from its roots as a wholesaler to the equally competitive field of retailing. ETD got its start as a gas station and has grown into a major wholesaler and nine-outlet retail chain. But according to President John Boyle, it is currently involved in its greatest challenge in 50 years—``the change from a large regional distributor toward a regional retail chain.''
A few years ago Englewood Tire decided to expand the retail end of the business. Retailing offers a much more stable base of business, Mr. Boyle explained. A distributorship is only as good as the deal it has at the moment. If a competing wholesaler offers tires for $1 less, you lose that customer, he added, while retail customers are more loyal.
Currently, wholesaling accounts for 80 percent of ETD's sales.
The distributorship originally was a gas station in Englewood, N.J., courted in 1946 by two bidders, ``Capt.'' Jerry Boyle—newly discharged from the Army Air Corps and looking to open his own business—and Walter Stillman, an established local businessman.
Mr. Stillman offered the higher bid, but was impressed with the young ex-serviceman and hired him to work at the newly created Englewood Tire Distributors.
The partnership lasted 43 years until the Stillman family sold the company to the Boyle family in 1989. ``We always ran the business, from the beginning. We just took over ownership at that point,'' said Mr. Boyle's son, John.
The company relocated its headquarters to Lyndhurst in 1995 and now has two wholesale divisions serving a 100-mile radius around New York City, nine retail stores, 130 employees and projected annual sales of more than $50 million this year.
Still serving as chairman, the 75-year-old ``Captain'' maintains a presence at the company. But his son revealed, ``if it's nice weather,
he leaves early to play golf; if it's not, he plays gin rummy.''
John Boyle, 44, grew up in the company, but is uncertain as to the career plans of the next generation—his twin 15-year-old daughters. His brother, Skip, also is involved as a territory manager for the wholesale division.
The wholesale operation has always catered exclusively to independent tire dealerships and run regular routes. But six years ago, it opened Discount Tire Express to run two to four deliveries daily to gas stations, car dealerships and speed shops in a smaller geographic area. Such expedited delivery ``opened a new market for us... it offered additional sales and brought business closer to home,'' Mr. Boyle said.
But wholesaling is a fluctuating business. So the company made the decision in 1995 to focus more on tire retailing. It redesigned its stores and renamed them ETD Discount Tire Centers. The stores sport several service bays, including those designated as ``fast lanes'' dedicated to tire changes and other related services.
The stores are spread throughout a six-county area of northern New Jersey, serving many who commute to New York City—the type of customers who want fast service and low prices.
Englewood's mode of operation is to ``move the customer in and out quickly... and be efficient the whole way,'' said Mr. Boyle.
In northern New Jersey, a five-mile trip can take an hour, he added. ``Everyone is conscious of how long things can take.'' So ETD guarantees a 25-minute tire installation or the customer gets half off the price of balancing and valve stems.
Fast service will be part of the theme of a new advertising campaign next year that will divert its focus from print media to cable television in hopes of hitting a market ETD may have been missing, according to Mr. Boyle. ``It will be the first time we've put a lot of emphasis (on television).''
As the company looks to methodically expand its retail operation by three stores annually, ETD also has been emphasizing tire sales over auto service. ``We got tired of watching our tire business go to other retailers,'' said Mr. Boyle.
Tire sales once made up only 40 percent of store revenues. Now that figure has grown to 60 percent and the stores are striving to increase it to 70 percent.
The ultimate goal is for retail sales to account for half of overall corporate sales, Mr. Boyle said.
But New Jersey is a tough market, and Sears, Roebuck and Co. is ETD's biggest competitor, according to Mr. Boyle.
How does ETD compete with one of the nation's largest retailers? ``On brand differentiation,'' Mr. Boyle replied. ETD sells Michelin, BFGoodrich, Bridgestone, Firestone, Yokohama, Kumho and Regul brand tires. ETD promotes the benefits it offers, such as road hazard warranties, emergency roadside assistance, and the aforementioned quick service.
``We have well-trained employees. That's our advantage,'' he added.
And as ETD strives to overcome its current challenge of transforming its operations, Mr. Boyle said the challenge for the next five years, simply put, is ``profit.''
In wholesaling, he said his company is experiencing more support from manufacturers going into 1997. ``We're more optimistic than we've been in the last five to seven years.'' That's because manufacturers are realizing, after several years of attempting to assume distribution channels to small dealerships, ``that regional wholesalers can do a better job than they can,'' he said.