With its first Tire-Rama store in Wyoming nearing its first anniversary, Tire Guys Inc. is looking for more stores in that market.
Last November, Tire Guys-which does business as Tire-Rama-bought XL Tire in Sheridan, Wyo. The store was the first retail venture outside of Montana in the company's recent history. Tire-Rama also built a warehouse component onto the store, giving the company five warehouses in Montana and now one in Wyoming, with a distribution range encompassing the Dakotas.
David Wehr, president and CEO since March of the Billings-based dealership, said he is looking at both new construction and existing stores as expansion possibilities in Wyoming.
``We don't have any particular, specific number,'' he said of his expansion plans. ``We've always got three or four deals in the hopper, so to speak, because some work and some don't.''
He added that the company has been looking at the Wyoming market for several years. He said the area has a lot of growth potential and also is similar to Tire-Rama's home market, where people are few and far between but have tire needs nevertheless.
``Up here it's everything to everybody,'' he said, adding the Sheridan store also handles farm tires.
In the past year, Tire-Rama also added three stores in Missoula, Mont., and one in Hamilton, Mont. The company plans to break ground soon on another Missoula store, which could be operating by spring.
Excluding the new construction in Missoula, Tire-Rama operates 25 retail stores plus six combination retail and commercial outlets. The company sells Bridgestone, Cooper, Firestone, Yokohama, Pro-Comp, Geostar and Starfire brands.
With expansion plans progressing, Mr. Wehr said the company is now anxiously awaiting a few good snowy days. ``We actually welcome it,'' he joked.
A ``significant'' portion of Tire-Rama's retail sales are from snow tires, which makes for some anxious nail-biting this time of year.
``Every year we just pretty much assume we're going to have a snow tire season, and there's been a few times we get stung, holding tens of thousands of snow tires,'' he told Tire Business.
Last year proved to be a ``phenomenal'' year, he said, and Tire-Rama decided to order about 10,000 more snow tires this year. With orders due generally in May, Mr. Wehr said he relies on his past ordering history as a general tool but also counts on manufacturers Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. and Bridgestone/Firestone to be fairly flexible.
``It's up to Mother Nature,'' he concluded. ``I quit trying to predict it.''
But while the health or hazard of this year's winter is anyone's guess, Mr. Wehr said one area Tire-Rama was able to plan effectively was its succession arrangement.
In March, Chuck Patrick retired, handing the reins to Mr. Wehr, who had served as executive vice president for two years.
Mr. Patrick, along with Jack Hasty, founded the business 27 years ago. Mr. Hasty retired in 1994, and Mr. Patrick then took over as president and CEO.
Asked about his own goals as CEO, Mr. Wehr said he has some ``pretty aggressive'' growth plans in mind.
``We're looking to double our sales volume in a certain period of time,'' he added.
While he said Tire-Rama carefully planned its succession, that isn't always the case with many small independent dealers in his area. He's noticed that many dealers sometimes don't think about their exact plans until they're ready to retire, when an exit strategy may be elusive.
``They assume that when they're ready to sell somebody will be there to buy it, which is not the case anymore,'' he said. ``Or they assume their kids will take over, and the kids want nothing to do with it.''
In fact, in a recent, unscientific online poll by Tire Business, 51.3 percent of the 152 respondents said they plan to sell their dealership when they're ready to retire. Another 21.7 percent said their children or other family members would take over. Almost 14 percent said they didn't have a plan at all.
Steve Jackson, president of Gene Jackson Tire Co. in Ashland, Ky., said in response to that poll that he's seen those plans to sell fall through for others.
``I have watched the last three independent tire businesses in my town simply shut down and liquidate, even after lengthy attempts to sell,'' he wrote to Tire Business.
Mr. Wehr acknowledged that the scenario carries some advantage to Tire-Rama when it's looking to buy. However, the company still faces the same problem that many retiring dealers face: a shortage of people who want to call the tire industry home.
``It still comes down to we need quality people to run it, no different than they need to find qualified buyers,'' Mr. Wehr said.