TARENTUM, Pa.—After 38 years in the tire business, Ronald ``Butch'' Bonnett, 56, is ready for a change. He's positioning his company, Bonnett Enterprises Inc., which does business as Highland Tire, for a growth spurt.
Early next year, Highland Tire will break ground for a new retail facility in Tarentum. Mr. Bonnett already operates two locations—a combination retail/wholesale store in Tarentum and a retail outlet in Natrona Heights, Pa.
With the planned construction of a new Tarentum store, Mr. Bonnett will convert his present location in that town into a 20,000-sq.-ft., wholesale-only operation.
Even though ``business is tremendous,'' Mr. Bonnett said, he continues to ``re-engineer'' the firm.
``It's too hard to run wholesale and retail out of the same location,'' Mr. Bonnett said.
Last year, he dropped an $800,000 account with an undisclosed tire manufacturer that wanted him to keep too much inventory.
With this change in the mix of his wholesale business, Mr. Bonnett said he's planning to set the wholesale operation up as a separate company and establish a separate operation to perform wheel alignments.
Mr. Bonnett said 1999 sales will be nearly the same as 1998, about $3.6 million, but the changes made so far will lead to higher profits.
Each Highland Tire store generates about $1 million in retail sales on tires and wheels alone. Great customer service by his employees is the major reason for this success, he said.
``Word of mouth'' advertising results in three to five new customers per day at each location, he said, and 75 percent of them return.
To increase traffic flow, the new store will have two express-oil-change bays, Mr. Bonnett said, in addition to four or five for tire service. The Natrona Heights location will add two express-oil-change bays.
Express oil changes are, ``a way to stay away from auto service,'' he said, ``and get tire customers back here every 3,000 to 5,000 miles.''
Mr. Bonnett expects to open two or three more Highland Tire locations within the same general market area, about 15 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.