AKRON—Tire Centers L.L.C., the predominantly commercial-oriented distribution subsidiary of Michelin North America Inc., is launching a branded identification program for its retail associate dealers.
The new program, "T3 Certified Tire Centers," encompasses a new private-brand program with passenger and light truck tire lines, a common market identity package and a portfolio of marketing, advertising, training and business services, according to Dave Snyder, vice president in charge of the new program. The "3" in T3 stands for selection, value and service.
Tire Centers L.L.C.—or TCI as the operation still is commonly known—has targeted between 125 and 150 dealers across the country, who already are TCI wholesale customers, to become the backbone of a nationwide T3 dealer network. The company welcomes inquiries from dealers not already associated with TCI's wholesale program, Mr. Snyder said.
To avoid competing directly with its associate dealers, TCI has sold its handful of stand-alone retail locations, and is playing down its direct passenger and light truck tire retailing activities in markets where an independent T3 location exists, a spokesman said.
The creation of T3 will alllow TCI to concentrate more fully on its commercial tire and retreading business—which accounted for two-thirds of the firm's $562 million in sales last year, according to Michelin—and its wholesale distribution of car and light truck tires.
In the past, TCI operated five retail-only stores, but said it also conducted some retail business at most of its 170 outlets. Retail sales of passenger and light truck tires at TCI stores represented less than 10 percent of the company's overall business in fiscal 1999, according to Michelin data.
The wholesale segment, which includes business with the associate dealers being targeted, has represented more than one-quarter of TCI's sales the past few years, Michelin said. TCI operates 34 distribution centers nationwide.
TCI offers Michelin, BFGoodrich, Uniroyal, Continental, General and Trivant tires through the T3 program. Trivant—which stands for TRIple adVANTage—is a new tire program exclusive to T3 dealers, Mr. Snyder said. The Trivant program features a broad range of styles and sizes in both passenger and light truck fitments.
Among the Trivant brand names are the Defender passenger and light truck line, the Primera, Cientra, and All-Weather passenger lines, and the Sport King, Mud King, All-Season King and Traction King light truck tires. Trivant replaces the Hood brand that previously was exclusive to TCI and its customers. The Trivant range is manufactured by Michelin, according to the tires' Department of Transportation identifying codes.
"We want to become a business partner with our customers," Mr. Snyder said. "We want to help independent tire dealers develop more profitable customer growth and loyalty."
To that end, TCI will offer marketing and advertising support, training programs for employees, a national accounts program, debit and credit card programs, national roadside assistance and national treadwear and road hazard warranties on the Trivant lines.
In addition, each T3 dealership will have its own Web page link from the T3 Web site, through the dealer locator feature, Mr. Snyder said. Most of the dealers involved are single-store operations, he added, and most of them also already are affiliated with Michelin Americas Small Tires' Alliance program.
TCI has developed a store identity package that includes T3 signage and suggested showroom layouts. Each participating dealership will retain its own name as the primary identity in the marketplace, Mr. Snyder said.
The T3 signage—an orange "T" and a white "3" on a purple background, or an orange T and a purple 3 on a white background—will identify the dealership as part of a larger network, however.
T3 dealers pay a one-time entry fee and a monthly maintenance fee to be part of the program, a spokesman said.
TCI already has rolled out the T3 program to dealers in the Northeast, the Pacific Northwest and Ohio, and plans to have introduced it to all the targeted dealers by the end of October, Mr. Snyder said.
Michelin bought TCI in early 1999; it plans to move the subsidiary's headquarters to Duncan, S.C., from Akron by next summer.
Of the retail stores TCI sold, only one has remained in the T3 program. That store, in downtown Akron, was sold to Parrish Tire of Akron Inc., which operates two stores in Akron under the Feeney-McIntyre Tire name.
The downtown location—originally a BFGoodrich company store when it was built in 1980—goes under the name Parrish-McIntyre Tire and opened for business Oct. 1 as a T3 location. It features 18 service bays, offices and warehousing, and sits on a 2.5-acre lot.
Parrish Tire of Akron is a partnership involving Parrish Tire Co. of Winston-Salem, N.C., and Mike McIntyre, the "McIntyre" half of Feeney-McIntyre in Akron.