Tire Warehouse Central Inc. wants to double its presence in the Northeast to 100 stores and will rely primarily on expanding the franchised end of its business to reach its goal, according to Steve McGrath, vice president of marketing.
The Keene-based tire and auto parts retailer now operates 52 stores in five New England states, including 27 company-owned locations and 25 franchise outlets, with two more due to open in coming months. The goal is to reach 100 stores as soon as possible, Mr. McGrath said, with most of the growth coming from franchise agreements.
The company has designated 60 to 70 markets in the Northeast where franchises would fit into the company's plans. The agreements can cover converts or start-ups for people new to the industry.
``(We) still have needs for territorial coverage that (we'd) consider company-owned sites,'' he said. ``So company-owned sites is not a dead issue. It's just we're pretty excited about the franchising programs.''
The 26th franchised store is set to open Oct. 1 in Exeter, N.H. Fitting with the firm's demographic plans, the city is an upscale area.
Land for a 27th store is being cleared in Goffstown, N.H. Other area expectations include a high daytime population rather than a small bedroom community where commuters are gone for most of the day, Mr. McGrath said.
The idea behind gaining market share through franchises hinges on the positive feelings customers associate with local ownership and control, Mr. McGrath said. Local owners, he added, may be better suited to handle sales promotions and labor issues.
``The hope and desire there would be a strong local support was probably one of the strongest factors,'' he said, adding the company maintains guidelines for most operations.
Another marketing chord TWC hopes to strike with customers is the Torch Award the company recently won from the state's Better Business Bureau. Mr. McGrath said the award recognizes a business with ethical practices.
``In our industry they thought it was quite unique to find (that in) our industry we kind of stay above the crowd,'' he said, citing primarily bait-and-switch tactics employed by some tire retailers.
To help support the growth plans, TWC hopes to expand both its distribution center and corporate offices though final plans are not set in stone.
The company wants to double the size of its distribution center near Keene to 162,000 square feet, Mr. McGrath said. The original 81,000-sq.-ft. center was built in the early 1990s with the intention of it being the first of three equal-sized pieces. The latest expansion-the second phase-could be complete in 2004.
With the larger distribution center, TWC is counting on better buying power from suppliers, Mr. McGrath said.
A separate agreement with Goodyear gives TWC more leverage with that brand; the company had sold Goodyear tires before, but it now sells them as a direct retailer for the Akron-based tire maker, according to Mr. McGrath.
The company also hopes to expand its corporate office space and turn the former location into a full-fledged retail store.
Previously, the store and corporate offices had shared space. TWC wants to keep the new corporate center in Keene.
In nearby West Chesterfield, N.H., the company also remodeled an existing store to include a training center.
Now, Mr. McGrath said, trainees learn in the classroom then move directly into a working showroom to practice real-life situations.
As TWC is adding new stores and expanding its distribution and corporate centers, it's not leaving its existing stores behind. The company is implementing a new store design into new and existing locations.
The design centers on changing the way inventory is displayed in the stores' showrooms, Mr. McGrath said.
Converted stores will display as much inventory as possible, and many accessories and repair products will line the path to the sales desk.
Featured products besides tires will include accessories, batteries, starters, alternators, brake components, exhaust systems, custom wheels, body kits and lighting accessories.
``That gives (customers) a chance to really peruse what our product lines really are,'' Mr. McGrath said.
None of TWC's outlets now performs automotive service, though company officials are kicking around ideas to allow some kind of automotive service connected to TWC stores through franchised businesses.
Mr. McGrath said no franchise owners are actively pursuing that yet, and many details remain to be worked out.
``I think a lot of the people are pleased with what they have,'' he said.