ERLANGER, Ky.—Bob Sumerel Tire Co. Inc., North America's 13th largest commercial tire dealership, is looking to grow its truck tire business the old-fashioned way: by offering more and better service to customers.
The plan is to expand commercial sales beyond the dealership's already strong national account business "to get more smaller guys," said Todd Sumerel, president of Sumerel Tire's Commercial Tire Group. That involves seeking additional revenue from non-national account fleets, "while getting better penetration in the markets we're in," he said.
He aims to do this, in large part, by adding to the company's sales staff, then supporting them with better service.
The Erlanger-based retail and commercial tire dealership, which posted $49 million in commercial sales in 2000, also has its eye on another prize—expanding in the off-the-road tire market. This is a new niche the company entered after acquiring neighboring dealership, Tires & Treads Inc., last August.
"Tires & Treads gave us entry into the OTR market," Mr. Sumerel said. That dealership, also based in Erlanger, operated a section shop for repairing OTR tires as well as a Hercules medium truck tire retread plant, which has since been shut down.
"They are a strong, well-run company," Mr. Sumerel said of Tires & Treads.
Since closing the Hercules plant shortly after acquiring it, Sumerel Tire has shifted retread production to a Bandag shop it operates about five miles away. Recently renovated and outfitted with the latest equipment, the Bandag plant is producing 250 medium truck tire retreads daily, Mr. Sumerel said.
Under Sumerel Tire ownership, Tires & Treads now consists of a section shop and a commercial tire and service center that continue to operate under the Tires & Treads banner. Steve Cheesman, who owned the business with his father, Louie, is running the operation, while his dad serves as a consultant, Mr. Sumerel said.
With its initial effort into OTR tires under way, Sumerel Tire is now "building OTR capability throughout the rest of the organization," he said. "We see it as a nice niche market."
Beyond OTR tires, Sumerel Tire is following an eight-point strategic plan, developed three years ago, to increase commercial sales through improved customer service.
The plan calls for, among other things, developing better qualified service technicians and having a full-time employee fielding night calls.
Previously, the dealership handled after-hours calls using an answering service or voice mail—an approach Mr. Sumerel described as "not customer friendly."
Now it has a knowledgeable person answering the phone, someone who has worked at the dealership for three or four years and "knows our people," he said.
The plan also calls for:
Training and certifying employees through the International Tire & Rubber Association's Commercial Tire Service Program;
Adding 10 service trucks and replacing 20 older ones;
Expanding the commercial sales force by 30 percent; and
Improving communication between the service managers and the service department.
"The goal is to increase service business to all our customers," Mr. Sumerel said. "I think service will be the differentiator in the future."
Sumerel Tire is headed by CEO Bob Sumerel, Todd's father, who focuses on long-term strategy, acquisitions and new retail stores. Effective Jan. 1, Todd became president of the dealership's Commerical Tire Group and his brother, Craig, was named president of the Retail Tire Group.
The dealership operates in northern Kentucky, central and southern Ohio, southern Indiana and parts of West Virginia. It has six commercial outlets, six retail/commercial facilities, four Bandag retread plants, a warehouse and 28 retail stores.
The company maintains 55 service trucks and offers a variety of tire brands including Bridgestone, Firestone, Dayton, Michelin, General, Dunlop and Yokohama.
Commercial sales are projected to grow 14.3 percent to $56 million in 2001.