LAKEVILLE, Ind.—Tire Warehouse Central has become Hoosier Performance Tire's newest distributor, boosting Hoosier's sales base by 52 outlets and giving it coverage thoughout most of New England. With the signing of Tire Warehouse, Hoosier Peformance Tire is about two-thirds of the way to nationwide coverage 18 months after taking full responsibility for the product's marketing and distribution and bringing Goodyear on board as its supplier.
At the same time, Hoosier Racing Tire is working around the clock at its plants in Plymouth, Ind., to keep pace with a 20-plus percent increase in demand for its radial racing tires.
Hoosier Performance Tire now has 20 distributors, the company said, and is concentrating its efforts for new outlets on the West Coast and Florida where it currently has none, the company said.
The brand is now available at more than 200 retail locations, according to the firm's internet dealer locator. The bulk of the dealer base thus far is in the Midwest—Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio—and now in New England.
"The Hoosier brand is not for every dealer," Hoosier Tire owner Bob Newton said. "We're looking for dealers who fit into our image, of the racing heritage."
In addition to filling out its distribution network with new dealers, Hoosier Performance Tire is making other moves to guarantee the brand's exclusivity for dealers, he said.
At year-end 1999, for instance, Hoosier ended a supply arrangement with mass merchandiser Montgomery Ward & Co., an agreement signed several years back when Continental General Tire Inc. was responsible for the marketing of the Hoosier brand.
At last count, Hoosier Performance Tire's product line features five lines of passenger tires in 61 sizes, ranging from 175/70R13 to 255/45R17—most are S- or H-rated, but there are six Z-rated offerings— and 26 light truck sizes, from 205/75R15 to 265/70R17.
Tire Warehouse will position Hoosier as an "upscale" brand, selling at a premium price, according to Mike Palotta, vice president of purchasing and sales at Tire Warehouse. "We expect Hoosier to yield high returns," he said.
"In the past, we've had more than a few customers walk in and ask for Hoosier by name, because they know it from racing."
The company is evaluating merchandising tie-ins with racing—programs Hoosier owners Bob and Joyce Newton call "bridging"—at several of the many race tracks in New England where Hoosier competes.
"Racing is big in New England, and Hoosier is a big name in racing," Mr. Palotta said, noting that Hoosier executives are targeting race fans as potential customers for the Hoosier street tires.
Exclusivity and profit potential are high on the list of desirables for most dealers who have committed to the brand.
"Having Hoosier landed us 13 new accounts we otherwise wouldn't have been able to approach," said Peter Seiff of Jim Wilson Tire in Cape Girardeau, Mo. "We're also a big auto parts wholesaler, so new accounts will pay dividends in areas other than tires as well."
Jim Wilson Tire is primarily a wholesaler, he said, and thus is working with potential retailers to guarantee exclusive territories, just as Hoosier is doing with its wholesale accounts.
"The reaction to Hoosier is black and white," Mr. Seiff said, "either there's positive name recognition, or none or at all."
Jim Wilson Tire and several other key distributors hooked up with Hoosier last year when the Summit Tire group and Hoosier worked a deal to make the Hoosier brand available to Summit dealers.
Earlier this year, Hoosier named Ben Tire Distributors of Toledo, Ill., its inaugural Hoosier Performance Tire Distributor of the Year.
The only hiccup in Hoosier's network building the past year and a half has been the tight supply situation that developed at Goodyear. Some distributors complained that the light truck line was most adversely affected last year, but the situation is now improving.
Parallel to Hoosier Performance's efforts to broaden distribution of the street tire program, Hoosier Racing Tire has stepped up its activities noticeably the past year and a half, expanding into new racing venues, signing some top-flight "name" drivers to help it boost the brand, and expanding a program to sign exclusive supply deals with race tracks.
As a result, Hoosier Racing Tire's business grew 20 percent last year, and Mr. Newton expects sales to grow at least that much again this year. The company claims to be the world's largest producer of racing tires.
Production at the company's eight-year-old radial tire plant in Plymouth is running 24 hours a day, 52 weeks a year, he said. The company is constantly hiring new employees, and earlier this year expanded the production area and built new administration facilities.
He declined to divulge the company's sales, employment or investment program.
Among the name drivers Hoosier has signed are Steve Kinser, a 15-time World of Outlaws sprint car champion, and Warren Johnson, a five-time National Hot Rod Association Pro Stock drag racing champion.
While most race fans associate Hoosier with the dirt and asphalt oval tracks of the sprint car world, Hoosier also is finding success in road racing. At last year's Sports Car Club of America's National Run-offs, drivers running on Hoosiers won 11 of 24 national titles.