The Tire Industry Association has decided to close its Louisville, Ky., training center and office and move operations and some staff members to its Bowie headquarters by Feb. 1.
The move will end an era, as Louisville has served as the base for the retreaders' national organization for more than 45 years. The Louisville center-which has housed TIA's forerunner groups, the International Tire & Rubber Association and the American Retreaders Association, since 1991-will be put up for sale as TIA deals with the reality of a $728,000 deficit from 2003.
The 10,200-sq.-ft. building, sitting on a little more than two acres, posed a ``tremendous expense'' for TIA and was underutilized due to declining enrollment in training courses and a small staff, according to TIA Executive Vice President Roy Littlefield.
In recent years more and more of TIA's members have preferred that the association send instructors to their cities to train employees, Mr. Littlefield said.
``Given the economic climate and the challenges of small businessmen, a lot of (dealers) are very reluctant to take key people, put them on an airplane, send them to Louisville, put them in a hotel for several days and go through the traditional kind of training we used to do,'' he told Tire Business.
In Bowie, the association's headquarters is a combination of owned and rented properties, Mr. Littlefield explained, as TIA recently bought a second condo so that it will have four contiguous condos, two of which it rents. Sixteen staffers work in Bowie.
The association's soon-to-be-renamed World Tire Expo still will be held in downtown Louisville in 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2011 as Louisville is still recognized as the retreading center, Mr. Littlefield said.
He noted that just as TIA doesn't need an office in Las Vegas to hold a trade show there, neither does it need to have a Louisville office to hold trade shows there.
So far, TIA doesn't have any prospective buyers, but the association does have a verbal agreement with a broker to represent it in the market, according to TIA President Larry Morgan.
He said no sale price has been determined, but noted that if TIA sold the facility at the appraised price, it would be a ``substantial net gain'' in cash for TIA and is more than what the association paid for its first unit in Bowie.
TIA declined to disclose the Louisville center's appraised value.
Whatever training equipment TIA owns also will be put up for sale, and the association will consult with those who donated some machinery to see if they want the equipment back, according to Mr. Littlefield. As far as training materials such as videos and workbooks, TIA is hoping to outsource the warehousing of that inventory and its fulfillment orders to a Louisville company the association has done business with in the past, he said.
``We're looking at (the company) to make it a much smoother transition so we don't have to move the inventory,'' Mr. Littlefield said. ``We can just have it transferred in the same city.''
The association appointed a committee months ago to examine the feasibility of operating two offices in different states. During a meeting in Las Vegas with the board of directors at last fall's International Tire Expo, the committee unanimously recommended the offices be consolidated, Mr. Morgan said. The board agreed that this was the more cost-effective option and that it made sense to combine operations under one roof, he added.
Mr. Littlefield acknowledged that consolidating the offices has been under consideration since the merger of ITRA with the Tire Association of North America. He called the decision ``a very unfortunate thing'' and a difficult decision to make in light of all the ``wonderful people who have worked very hard for the association'' in Louisville.
``This is in no way a reflection of their efforts because they did a great job,'' Mr. Littlefield said. ``It was purely a financial and reorganization decision.''
Of the 11 staffers who work in Louisville, three have been offered the option to relocate to Maryland and two of them-Kevin Rohlwing, senior vice president of education and technical services, and Chris Marnett, director of training-have agreed to move. Ms. Marnett will relocate to Bowie during the first week of February while Mr. Rohlwing will continue teaching the instructor classes scheduled for the first half of 2004 in Louisville.
Bunny McDermott, TIA's communications coordinator and the third staffer offered the option to move, has not yet made a decision, Mr. Littlefield said.
TIA will reschedule fall Commercial Tire Service (CTS) classes, but all future CTS and Automotive Tire Service (ATS) Instructor classes will be conducted regionally. The association said it will release a complete schedule of dates and locations this summer and is making arrangements with community colleges in Bowie to hold ATS and CTS classes there. Mr. Littlefield said the instructor classes probably will relocate to Maryland in July.
TIA has two instructors scheduled to perform regional CTS and management training courses in 36 cities during the first half of the year, Mr. Littlefield said. Mr. Rohlwing also will be traveling, but he will go to state associations this year to roll out the ATS program as part of TIA's goal to ``try to have a TIA representative at every state association that will have us,'' Mr. Littlefield said.