ST. LOUIS—Numbers. Community Wholesale Tire Inc. is all about numbers these days. Lots and lots of numbers.
With the aid of a self-created marketing group, the St. Louis-based wholesale company has turned itself into what it considers a powerful force in the Midwest. The impact of the group—known as the Independent Tire Dealer Buying Group (ITD)—was felt in late April, when Community had what President Phil Berra called its best trade show ever.
It certainly was that in terms of displays and attendance, which Mr. Berra attributed somewhat to the show's moving to the Gateway Convention Center in St. Louis, a venue that afforded 20,000 square feet for the trade show area. The increased space led to increased vendor numbers and approximately 250-300 dealers in attendance. Illustrating the bump in numbers, the group's annual dinner drew 535 guests, nearly a 20-percent increase over a year ago.
Venues—and modesty—aside, the influence of the ITD group was evident. Begun just five years ago, the group—called by Mr. Berra “an umbrella for all the different marketing programs we offer our different dealers”—has nearly 300 members.
Most of them, he said, are single-store owners. That 300 is out of the 1,000 or so dealers with whom Community does business.
Still relatively new, the group is growing, and Mr. Berra anticipates ultimately involving between 400 and 500 dealers. But not everyone can be a member. Community requires that dealers buy half their tires from the wholesaler to be eligible for group benefits.
Mr. Berra said half of a dealer's tires doesn't have to be a huge number, just so long as it's half.
“It runs the gamut,” he said. “We don't put any numbers on them. That's what the majors like to do.” Purchases of as few as 300 tires a month would represent a medium-range dealership, but “that's never been an issue,” he added.
Still another criterion involves dealers maintaining certain standards. Simply buying a lot of tires isn't enough to qualify one to become an ITD member.
“A dealership has to be a legit tire dealer, ethical, with a quality appearance,” Mr. Berra explained. “Over the years, there have been a few people who weren't offered membership in the group, he admitted, because, quite frankly, their establishments “didn't look good.”
Dealers belonging to ITD benefit from group advertising, signage, roadside assistance packages, a Web site with a dealer locator, group pricing programs, a Community credit card, oil discount programs and co-op advertising.
“The marketing support we give is all tied into that,” Mr. Berra said. “It gives them some tools they can't get on their own. It gives the independent tire dealers advantages of size and scale they can't get on their own. It's the projection of an image—being part of a larger group.”
Consumers in Missouri, Illinois and parts of Kansas and Iowa will recognize ITD from signage on the sides of delivery trucks, as well as at individual stores. Mr. Berra said he has entertained the thought of eventually having ITD members wear uniform patches to further identify the group.
Those attending Community's recent trade show had the opportunity to participate in seminars covering topics including “Improving Your Bottom line,” “High-Performance Tires,” “Phone/Retail Selling Skills,” “Computer Link & Point of Sale,” and “Advertising.”
The all-day event also featured private brands presentations by Hercules Tire & Rubber Co. and Remington Tires, general session presentations by Michelin Americas Small Tires (MAST), Bridgestone/Firestone and Toyo Tire (U.S.A.) Corp. Presentations and seminars were followed by dinner, an awards presentation and a stand-up comedian.
Vendors included Hercules, Remington, Toyo, Max-Trac Tire Co. Inc., Bridgestone/Firestone, Goodyear, MAST, China Manufacturers Alliance, Denman Tire Corp., Titan Tire Corp. and several others.
This year's event was the 10th convention held by Community, and its fourth consecutive gathering. Dealers from four Midwest states attended. Special guests included NFL Hall of Fame tight end Jackie Smith and St. Louis Cardinals broadcaster Bob Ramsey.
Community has a 125,000-sq.-ft. warehouse in St. Louis and a distribution center in Kansas City that was recently expanded to more than 100,000 square feet. The company handles Goodyear, Dunlop, Bridgestone, Firestone, Toyo, Hercules, Merit, Remington and Monarch brand tires, along with MAST products.