DETROIT (April 21, 2000)—When the bell rang last fall signaling the end of another round in the turbulent "Motor City" tire market bouts, the winner was Belle Tire Distributors Inc., while the vanquished National Tire & Battery (NTB) limped out of town.
When NTB, operated by retailing giant Sears, Roebuck and Co., closed 13 outlets in Michigan, Belle was waiting in the wings.
On March 27, Belle Tire purchased the 13 sites—four converted former Tire America locations and nine built-from-scratch NTB stores—for an undisclosed amount. Ten of them reopened April 17 after undergoing refurbishing, said Jeff Kruse, vice president for Belle, one of the nation´s 10 largest independent retail dealership chains.
The sale was part of NTB´s efforts to exit unprofitable markets, a move that led it to close 33 stores overall in Michigan, New York and Florida, reducing its store count to the current 307.
A Sears spokesman said the firm would not comment on the remaining closed stores or whether any other sales are pending.
Mr. Kruse said NTB´s departure from Michigan in September 1999 provided a great opportunity for Belle because NTB already had business "in the areas we needed to be in."
Two of the stores, in Flint and in Lansing, Mich., were new markets for Belle.
What the dealership got, essentially, were empty boxes. NTB had removed all equipment, leaving Belle to renovate the sites to its own standards, while adding interior and exterior signage, new equipment and hoists, and warehouse racking.
However, Mr. Kruse said they were not major renovations, in most cases, because many of the buildings were only two years old.
Belle´s still waiting for the final bill for renovations, so he could not provide a cost estimate.
In a news release, Belle Tire President Don Barnes Jr. said he´s "very proud and excited about bringing our brand name into new communities." The company believes in investing in new stores, offering the latest high-tech equipment and giving employees the most advanced training resources available, he added.
About 30 days ago, Belle also opened a new store in Macomb Township, Mich., a suburb of Detroit and is hoping to build five new retail outlets yet this year, all in existing markets.
The Allen Park, Mich.-based company, founded in 1922, currently operates seven commercial truck tire centers, five Bandag retread plants and 61 retail stores, which include some of the commercial centers.