LINCOLNTON, N.C.—One of the nation's largest tire distributors has signed an agreement that will—nearly overnight—make it one of the nation's largest tire retailers as well. J.H. Heafner Co. Inc. has signed a definitive purchase agreement to buy Oliver & Winston Inc. of Burbank, Calif., the nation's fourth-largest independent tire dealership, according to a TIRE BUSINESS annual ranking.
Terms of the agreement were not disclosed, but it is expected to be concluded by the end of May, according to Heafner President William H. Gaither.
The pending purchase includes about 175 Winston Tires retail stores in California and Arizona, as well as the company's Winston private brand tire, manufactured by Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.
In the past, Lincolnton-based Heafner Tire wholesaled tires, wheels and related equipment to independent tire dealers in 18 states throughout the southern/southeastern U.S.
But Mr. Gaither said the company has felt, for some time, that it needed a retail presence. The company, in fact, has been in negotiations with Oliver & Winston on and off for the past two years, he said.
``I think it's important to control points of sale—you have more leverage with your business,'' he told TIRE BUSINESS.
The opportunity to purchase the large retail company became more of a reality after Oliver & Winston was thrown into limbo when its owner, Sam Winston, died in an automobile accident in 1995, Mr. Gaither said.
``This will remove the speculation'' of what will happen to the company, he said. ``Now they can get back to the business of selling tires.''
``The reason we had the opportunity is the two cultures (of the organizations) are similar,'' he said later. ``(Mr. Winston) wasn't an egomaniac. He was a nice guy. We had the same approach to the business.''
TIRE BUSINESS estimates put Oliver & Winston's retail sales at $144 million in 1995.
In addition to its namesake private label tires, Winston Tires stores sell Michelin, Pirelli, Toyo and Akuret brand tires, and perform alignment, brake, front-end and oil-change services.
Heafner plans to operate the outlets under the Winston Tires banner, and will begin selling the Winston brand tire, along with its own Regul private label tire and Pacer private label wheel in markets on both the West and East coasts, Mr. Gaither said.
The distributor plans to expand its operations in both areas as well, he added, noting that the expansion could include additional states.
``We're going to go where the people are,'' he said.
For Heafner, the purchase is massive. Accumulating the 175-store Winston organization will more than quadruple its employment from 500 to 2,000.
In fact, the ``talent pool'' the Winston purchase brings to the Heafner organization will help the company's wholesale operation develop programs to further the businesses of the independent tire dealers it serves, Mr. Gaither said.
``In no way will this hinder our East Coast (wholesale) operations,'' he stressed.
The Winston management team will remain the same, Mr. Gaither said.
Heafner's expansion is part of a natural process dictated by the tire industry—which continues to see consolidation on all levels-according to Mr. Gaither.
``You can't shrink yourself to greatness,'' he said.