MASSILLON, Ohio—When Ziegler Tire & Supply Co. executives first entertained the idea in 1998 of establishing a mold cure retread shop, they set into motion a chain of events that would lead to the dissolution of their 10-year-old business partnership with Bandag Inc. and result in the largest single investment in the company's 80-year history. That investment, an $8.4 million, 107,000-sq.-ft. Michelin Retread Technologies Inc. (MRTI) hybrid retread plant, warehouse and corporate headquarters in the Ohio countryside 10 minutes west of Canton, is now the cornerstone of the family dealership's business plan for the new century.
"Once it became clear that we weren't going to be able to continue with Bandag, it just made sense to consolidate our retreading and truck tire operations into one central location," said William Ziegler, president of the predominantly commercial tire dealership. Prior to the conversion, Ziegler Tire operated four Bandag plants.
"The cost of equipment today—especially for a shearography casing inspection unit—and our customers' demands for driving costs down," Mr. Ziegler said, "drove our decision to put all this under one roof."
>From the rural location just off U.S. Route 30, Ziegler Tire serves customers throughout most of Ohio and southern Michigan with a mix of seven major passenger and truck tire brands and both mold-cure and precure MRTI retreads. More than three-fourths of the dealership's projected $65 million in sales this year will be from commercial business.
The new Ziegler plant, which went into production last October and is steadily gearing up to its projected 600 units-per-day capacity, is one of only five hybrid mold-cure/precure (Custom Mold/Premold, in Michelin jargon) MRTI plants currently operating.
"A custom-mold plant definitely is not for everyone," Mr. Ziegler said during a recent tour of the facility, "but we felt it made sense here, for us."
Ziegler Tire management based their decision on the types of fleets common throughout their territory, and their predominant use of two or three primary sizes. In Ziegler's case, the custom-mold production centers, for now, on two sizes—11R22.5 and 275/80R22.5—in three tread designs for drive and trailer applications.
The custom-mold production area now consists of eight CIMA curing presses—equipped with 10-segment molds—but the shop floor is laid out to accommodate four more.
The decision to switch to the Michelin retreading system also was tied to what the Zieglers perceived was a need to increase their business with national accounts. This aspect of business was too limited, Mr. Ziegler said, as long as the dealership was allied strictly with Bandag.
Since switching to MRTI, Ziegler Tire has secured three so-called TEAM agreements, a Michelin business initiative that ties the customer, the dealer and Michelin into a three-year supply agreement that guarantees the customer a fixed monthly cost for his tires and tire servicing.
Of the three, Mr. Ziegler said, two are new accounts the company previously was unable to crack.
"Under this arrangement, we don't have to keep selling and re-selling the account. Our fleet reps can concentrate on fleet maintenance."
TEAM—Tire Electronic Asset Management—agreements are designed to provide a platform for continual cost reductions. If an account comes in under budget for a given year, the dealership and the customer split the gains.
The retread portion of the new Ziegler Tire headquarters occupies 40,000 of the 107,000 square feet and currently employs 24. Among the equipment are three NDT/visual inspection stations, two shearography stations—every casing undegoes a shearography inspection—an X-ray inspection station for suspect casings, two automated SIO buffers, six repair stations, two pre-mold building machines and a custom-mold extrusion station.
"Each casing is bar-coded before it even reaches us," said Kent Ferguson, retread plant manager. "This allows us to document at each step what happens to it, including reasons for rejection when we have to reject one."
Eventually, he added, customers will be able to check, via the Internet, the status of each of their tires while they're in the production cycle.
The larger part of the building—60,000 square feet—is devoted to warehousing. A small portion houses a wheel refinishing area.
"It's part of the whole package now," Mr. Ziegler said. "The customer doesn't want to deal with tires or wheels. He wants us to take the mounted tire off and return it mounted, with a clean wheel and new retread."
The closing of four Bandag plants and the move to the new quarters allowed Ziegler Tire to consolidate its wholesale business at the former company headquarters in Canton.
The dealership still has the equipment and inventory of its Columbus, Ohio, Bandag plant for sale; a deal to sell it as an ongoing business fell through when Bandag cancelled the franchise, Mr. Ziegler said.