AKRON-Goodyear has nearly completed the dissolution of its Brad Ragan/Carolina Tire network, having closed 37 stores and sold or having sales pending on 42 others.
Goodyear converted only six of the 85 Brad Ragan/Carolina Tire stores it operated at the beginning of the year to Goodyear Auto Service Centers, a company spokesman said, primarily in larger metropolitan areas.
Among the buyers of two or more stores are Black's Tire Service of Whiteville, N.C., Bubba's Tire Center of Dublin, Ga., Jennings Tire Co. of Murfreesboro, Tenn., Frasier Tire Service in Sumter, S.C., and Mountain View Tire & Service, a new business start-up that took over nine Carolina Tire stores in western North Carolina.
Goodyear decided to phase out the Brad Ragan and Carolina Tire names earlier this year after management determined the stores' home and auto format-which still included selling appliances and other non-automotive products-no longer was viable. The stores in question are in North and South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.
Goodyear declined to comment on the sale proceeds or costs of closing and converting the other stores.
By selling the targeted sites primarily to existing Goodyear dealers, Goodyear has been able to secure distribution of its products throughout the seven-state area. A number of stores were taken over by the store manager or managers, Goodyear spokesmen said.
Perhaps the most ambitious of the bunch is Brian Forrest, who up until two months ago was a district manager for Goodyear/Brad Ragan, overseeing 24 stores in North Carolina.
When Goodyear made the decision to do away with the Brad Ragan/Carolina Tire network, Mr. Forrest was one of the first to investigate the possibility of taking over some stores.
``From the beginning,'' Mr. Forrest said, ``I knew which stores I thought would make a good business. Then I just had to put together a good business plan and find a partner.''
Mr. Forrest's search led him to a local business acquaintance, Paul Anderson, who operates an Interstate Batteries distribution business in the area. Mr. Anderson agreed to come on board as majority shareholder, Mr. Forrest said.
Mountain View Tire opened for business at five stores May 18 and the remaining four May 25, Mr. Forrest said, making the company the largest independent tire dealership in western North Carolina.
Five of the stores are in the Asheville area, and all of them are close enough together to allow the dealership to take advantage of local advertising media, Mr. Forrest said. The stores are in Arden, Asheville (two locations), Brevard, Hendersonville, Swannanoa, Sylva, Waynesville and Weaverville.
Grand openings at the stores were taking place the week of June 24 with local radio stations doing on-site broadcasts.
``We intend to distinguish ourselves in the marketplace by focusing on customer satisfaction,'' Mr. Forrest said. ``Our motto will be, `A better place for tires and service.'''
Mr. Forrest said he was able to retain most of the 50 Carolina Tire employees for his dealership. ``Continuity is important in these markets,'' he said. ``Long-time customers want to feel at home.''
Mr. Forrest said his business plan calls for a 60-40 tires-service split, with first year sales of about $7.5 million. He already has two more locations in mind for expansion in a year or two. Two of the stores have four bays, and the others have six to eight bays; all of the stores already were part of the Gemini service network, Mr. Forrest said.
Mountain View Tire acquired one property outright and is negotiating to buy three others; otherwise Goodyear is subleasing the sites.
The new owners have taken out most of the non-automotive products that were a staple under the Brad Ragan/Carolina Tire network.
Mr. Forrest came within a whisker of not clinching the deal, and instead staying with Goodyear.
``I was in Atlanta looking at houses when I got the call that the deal had been OK'd,'' he said. ``I really wanted the deal to happen, because I've lived in that area for 20 years and my wife's family is there.''
Another ambitious dealer taking advantage of the situation is Bubba East, owner of Bubba's Tire Center in Dublin, Ga. Mr. East agreed to take over three Brad Ragan stores in a 75-mile radius of Dublin, and has plans to convert the locations to combination retail/commercial outlets.
Mr. East took over Brad Ragan stores in Milledgeville, Eastman and in Dublin. Ironically, he was the landlord for the Ragan store in Dublin, he said.
Mr. East set up Bubba's Tire in 1990 after graduating from Georgia Tech and returning home to help out his father in the family service station business. At that time, service stations were evolving rapidly from full service to convenience stores, he said, so Mr. East thought it presented an opportunity to retain some of the service business by combining it with tire sales.
Mr. East has been a Goodyear dealer from the start, and added commercial tires to the mix in 1993. Today he's a Truckwise dealer.
Jennings Tire took over the leases on two stores, in Tullahoma and Springfield, according to H.B. Willis, CEO. The stores-both relatively new at 3 and 5 years old respectively-already have been re-badged American Tire Stores, the name Jennings Tire uses for all but two of its stores.
The new stores boost Jennings Tire's network to 14 stores, Mr. Willis said, and expand the company's existing marketing area. Jennings Tire will continue to operate the two locations as Gemini stores.
Black's Tire Service took over two stores in North Carolina, bringing the Black's Tire network to 16 stores in North and South Carolina, according to information on the firm's Web site.
Black's Tire was founded in 1929 by William C. Black in Whiteville, and the business remained a single store dealership until the early 1980s, when his business partner Ricky Benton helped open a second store.
While primarily a Goodyear dealership, Black's Tire also carries Dunlop, Denman, Mastercraft, Michelin, Ohtsu and Roadmaster tires and Bandag retreads.