The sale of even as few as four sets of a particular custom wheel can suddenly make the shiny, elaborate rims lose their luster.
Al Harris, service manger at a TK Performance outlet in Cleveland, said he's seen customers' spirits dampen when they learn the rims they were eyeing aren't unique with a capital U.
``You have to have everything,'' he said.
That's one of the ideas behind the TK Performance setup from Tire Kingdom Inc. The Juno Beach-based retail subsidiary of marketer TBC Corp. launched the concept in 2001 to capitalize on the exponential growth of the custom wheel, tire and accessories aftermarket. The stores are billed as stand-alone performance centers with hundreds of custom wheels on display.
Since the first store opened in Jacksonville, Fla., the concept is now up to four outlets, with a fifth to open in Tallahassee, Fla., in the coming weeks. The Cleveland store-gained from Tire Kingdom's acquisition of the former Mueller Tire & Brake chain, based in that city-was the third store in the series.
Still, the store concept is running behind Tire Kingdom's original goal of 20 stores within five years. But Ben Hammond, Tire Kingdom's performance manager, said that goal may still be reached in the near future.
``We're growing the business,'' he said. ``Everything's fantastic.''
When the concept was launched, Tire Kingdom was just hitting its stride in terms of its own growth. The retail chain had only 181 stores in late 2001 compared with 359 at last count. Add to that the 226 National Tire & Battery outlets Tire Kingdom will absorb as part of TBC's $260 million acquisition of NTB from Sears, Roebuck and Co.
With Tire Kingdom established as a mega-retailer, Mr. Hammond said it may now be the performance concept's chance to grow. Plus, he said he was able to prove the concept can be a moneymaker. ``The expansion will start to come a little quicker than it had in past years.''
TK Performance stores likely will grow to the point that there is about one store in every market, but Mr. Hammond doesn't expect the number of stores to ever cross the 100 mark. The NTB deal, expected to close by Dec. 1, may help push TK Performance into big markets such as Dallas and Chicago where Tire Kingdom has yet to make its mark in either performance or broadline tires, he said.
In the case of northern markets like Chicago, Mr. Hammond said the stores will likely be half a regular store and half a performance center since few customers will, for instance, plop down $18,000 for some Davin Wheel Co. spinners and tires when the roads seem to be paved with salt in the winter. Mr. Hammond said these stores will be dubbed Tire Kingdom Pro Center.
``There's a lot of opportunity for that in many major areas where we feel it's not strong enough for a complete performance center, but we mix both together,'' he said.
Though he would not give specific sales figures for the stores, he said the first store shattered his goal of $200,000 in the first month there. ``From that point forward we've just done better and better all along.''
He also hopes the performance concept can benefit the entire Tire Kingdom chain. The idea is that young people will buy their custom wheels and tires at the shops then return to normal Tire Kingdom stores years later when they're cruising in minivans and sport-utility vehicles.