HARRISONBURG, Va.—There was plenty of pride and enthusiasm in evidence at Ray Carr Tires Inc.'s open house June 4-5 in Harrisonburg. The event came just over two months after Ray Carr Tires severed its relationship with its principal retread supplier, Bandag Inc., and marked the successful transition to two new suppliers: Associated Rubber Co. and Marangoni Tread N.A. Inc.
And in the case of Marangoni, the transition also involved the adoption of a new retreading process, the Marangoni RINGtread System (RTS), and the conversion of an existing facility to accommodate the new equipment—the first RTS retread plant in the U.S.
Ray Carr Tires, which operates five commercial/retail outlets and five wholesale distribution centers in addition to its two retread plants, distributes its retreads throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. The company ranked 18th among medium truck tire retreaders in North America, based on 1998 tread rubber consumption of 3.67 million pounds.
There was understandable concern regarding what impact the transition—and the resulting loss of the well-known Bandag product—would have on the company's sales. The worst-case scenario called for a drop of as much as 25 percent, said Derrill DeRamus, vice president of sales and marketing.
As it turned out, the company's sales dipped about 5 percent initially and have since recovered completely, Mr. DeRamus said. ``We discovered that our customers were, indeed, our customers, not Bandag's,'' he said.
The fact that the company did very little Bandag national account business was an added advantage, said President Ray Carr Jr. Ray Carr Tires lost only one significant national account customer as a result of the transition, Mr. DeRamus said.
The company also has a good sales balance, about evenly divided between end-users and resellers, Mr. Carr said.
A June 4 visit to the company's former Bandag retread plant, located a few miles from Ray Carr Tires' headquarters complex, found it in full operation. Bandag only took back a couple of its most sophisticated pieces of equipment, Mr. DeRamus said, and it was a fairly seamless transition from Bandag tread rubber to that of Associated Rubber.
Production at the plant is averaging about 310 precured medium truck tires per day, with an additional 200 Hawkinson mold-cure retreads, company officials said.
To enhance the appearance of its precure retreads, Ray Carr Tires takes the somewhat unusual step of applying thin strips of cushion gum called ``dress strips,'' to the shoulder edges of the buffed casings.
Associated Rubber President Glenn Stephens, on hand for the open house, said his company now is pressing all its own treads and makes its own molds, enabling it to be particularly responsive to the needs of customers such as Ray Carr Tires, its largest single account.
Associated Rubber can adapt rapidly to changes in tire sizes and designs, as well as develop custom tread designs for customers, Mr. Stephens said.
Back at the Ray Carr headquarters complex, the company has set up its new Marangoni RTS shop in the facility that once housed its extensive passenger retreading operation. Ray Carr Tires stopped retreading passenger tires in January.
In a state-of-the-art operation, highly automated, computerized buffers and builders marry one-piece, circular tread rings to carefully prepared casings, which also received the Ray Carr ``dress strip'' treatment.
To further enhance the appearance and performance of the finished product, plastic wrap is strategically positioned to prevent workers' hands from ever touching the tread rings.
RTS production currently is between 50 and 75 units per day with one shift and a single 25-tire curing chamber, Mr. Carr said. The company soon will add a second shift, he said, and then will start thinking about adding more equipment.
Mr. Carr said he sees a great deal of potential for RTS retreads, which the company is positioning as a premium product that offers lower rolling resistance and a smoother ride, compared with a conventional precured tread. The RTS product sells for about 10 percent more, he said.
With the Hawkinson product positioned as a lower-cost alternative to precured retreads, Ray Carr Tires offers its customers three different levels of retreaded products, Mr. DeRamus said, similar to the type of lineup a dealer might offer with new tires: entry-level, broad-market and premium.