BALTIMORE—Having expanded strongly in the Baltimore/Washington metropolitan areas, Mr. Tire Inc. now is fanning out into the rural communities surrounding the two metropolises. ``We've been doing a lot of rural-type stores in small towns that are growth areas,'' said Joseph Tomarchio Jr., executive vice president of Mr. Tire. These communities are booming as urban professionals seek quieter, cheaper places to live, Mr. Tomarchio explained, and Mr. Tire is poised to attract their tire and auto service business.
Mr. Tire's newest store—its 35th—is set to open in the fourth quarter of 1999 in Mount Airy, Md., a small town halfway between Baltimore and Frederick, Md., on Route 70, Mr. Tomarchio said. The company has solid plans to open two more outlets in 2000's first quarter—``depending on the building permits''—and hopes to unveil three or four more during the course of the year.
While the small-town business is tempting, it can also be a pain to pursue, Mr. Tomarchio said. ``When we planned our Westminster (Md.) store, it took us 11 months to get the permits we needed, because everybody and his brother was against us,'' he said.
``In rural areas, even though they've seen your ads and know who you are, you're the city slickers,'' he added. ``We try not to ruffle any feathers, but it's still an uphill battle.''
So far, Mr. Tire has restricted its geographical coverage to Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. However, it may soon cross the Mason-Dixon line into southern Pennsylvania.
``We're considering the possibility,'' Mr. Tomarchio said. ``What's happened is that, because taxes are so high in Maryland, a lot of people who work in Baltimore are living across the Maryland line in Pennsylvania.
``You can buy the same house for $50,000 or $100,000 less if you're willing to drive a little farther up Route 83,'' he said. ``So many people are moving there that they've started calling some southern Pennsylvania towns `Little Baltimore.'''
Merger in the summer of 1998 with Atlantic Automotive Corp., a holding company that owns an increasing number of new-car dealerships in the Baltimore/Washington area, has accelerated Mr. Tire's growth, Mr. Tomarchio said. The numbers back him up: The company had 25 outlets last year after more than a decade in business, and will have 10 more by the end of this year.
From the beginning, Mr. Tire has upheld the philosophy of being the kinder, gentler tire store, including plushly appointed waiting rooms for customers. ``It costs us a hell of a lot more money to do things that way, but it pays off in the long run,'' Mr. Tomarchio said.
Ninety-five percent of Mr. Tire's business is retail, with the remainder in wholesale. It carries a wide range of tires—including BFGoodrich, Continental, Dunlop, General, Goodyear, Michelin, Pirelli, Uniroyal, Delta and Akuret—and performs a range of tire-related auto services including alignment, brakes, exhaust, shocks/struts and oil/lube. It belongs to the Tire Alliance Groupe and Del-Nat marketing cooperatives.