As Conrad's Total Car Care and Tire Centers nears completion of its 27th store in Northeast Ohio, the Cleveland-based retailer is eyeing more growth in the market.
The new store, in North Ridgeville, Ohio, is expected to open by mid to late November, said General Manager Dominic Umek. The store joins two others opened this year, which included outlets in Akron and Macedonia, Ohio. The Macedonia and North Ridgeville stores are new constructions while the Akron store formerly was Viall Tire & Auto Service.
``We plan on continuing our growth of the overall Greater Cleveland, Akron, Canton marketplace,'' Mr. Umek said.
The Akron and Macedonia stores represent the Goodyear dealership's first formal entrance into Akron's Summit County. But Mr. Umek said the Cleveland and Akron markets are so close that crossover was inevitable. When Conrad's was founded in 1969, he said, the retailer was mainly in the western half of Cleveland's Cuyahoga County and the northern edge of Lorain County. It has grown to 27 stores from as few as 17 only six years ago.
``As we continued to grow, we've been moving east through Cuyahoga County and at the same time recognizing that we were getting closer and closer to being built out in the Greater Cleveland marketplace,'' Mr. Umek told Tire Business. ``Our next natural growth would be where we could leverage our distribution and our media buy, and that obviously takes you south. It's been more of an evolving plan based upon the next logical steps of our growth.''
Mr. Umek added that primarily radio and television markets have become increasingly merged in Northeast Ohio, meaning Conrad's Cleveland advertising naturally reaches Akron as well.
But while Conrad's plans growth in its existing market-likely about two stores per year-the firm is not looking for new markets.
``We feel we have some work to finish here before we (grow) geographically,'' he said.
Though two stores a year is more conservative growth than other tire retailers, Mr. Umek said finding qualified people is as much an issue as if he were looking to grow 200 stores a year. ``To me, it's always been difficult to find good help,'' said the 20-year industry veteran.
But Conrad's is in a good place, he said, as far as retention and longevity.
``Growth always stretches you and is painful in the short term because you're diluting your base to some degree. But that's another reason we want to pace our growth so customers aren't exposed to a decline in the level of service they receive,'' he explained. ``...It certainly is a challenge, but it's one we're comfortable with.''
Conrad's earlier this year sold a technical training company it had run for several years. Professional Automotive Career Training (PACT) had trained groups ranging from Goodyear and Firestone affiliates to the U.S. military. In 1995 Conrad's also bought Autotech and merged that company with PACT.
The tire retailer sold the combined company effective May 1 to National Automotive Parts Association (NAPA) in a bid to focus on its core tire retailing business. Mr. Umek said PACT initially was started as a department within Conrad's to handle training, but it soon branched out.
``It became a stand-alone entity and really took on a life of its own,'' he said.
Conrad's continues to do about 90 percent of its training through PACT Autotech, plus the dealership uses other in-house training programs in addition to tire makers' product training.