When things are running like a fine-tuned tractor-trailer, you like to hoot and holler about it, right? Well, at the least, tell a few people.
The folks at Hill Tire Co. are pleased as punch about a lot of things going right for the commercial dealership, but apparently they're not great musicians because no one's been tooting their own horn about their performance.
The Atlanta-area company swung open the doors to a new truck tire center and its second retreading facility Jan. 1 in Valdosta, Ga. And, said Jim Vickers, the dealership's general manager of store operations, Hill Tire is really pleased with the results from the Ringtread retreading process it's using from Marangoni Tread North America Inc. ``Ringtread's been excellent for us, gives us a quality product, is very competitive in cost-per-mile. It saves money for the fleets and has helped boost our sales, so we're expanding.''
Before jumping on the Marangoni bandwagon in 2001, Hill kept its eggs in several baskets-and still does, to a minor degree. ``We've been an independent retreader and were using several suppliers, flat tread-type systems, cold cap, (Oliver Rubber Co.'s) Mega-Mile and Teknor Apex's products. Being a true independent, we weren't with Bandag (Inc.) or Oliver,'' he said. The dealership also still uses some Mega-Mile, ``and we've also imported a little flat tread rubber from various suppliers.'' It's using Mega-Mile in Valdosta, along with Marangoni.
With that new location, where the company had some existing business, comes an opportunity for expansion, Mr. Vickers told Tire Business. It gives Hill a foothold in the north Florida market as well as in south Georgia because ``we couldn't reach it from here (Forest Park).''
He also noted that ``some of the fleets we're doing business with down there won't allow us to use their names in any kind of marketing or surveys or newspaper ads. Some are kind of secret. You can't say too much about them because they don't want their competitors that they run against to know what (retreading) process they're using. So we don't tell about everything.
``We had some existing business that was overwhelming our production capacity and delivery systems here, so the (new) location made common sense.''
The new plant's been running three months and, he added, ``we're satisfied the new operation made sense.'' At capacity it'll crank out 100 retreads daily, but won't reach full tilt until May. Eventually Mr. Vickers expects to face the happy predicament of having to expand that 32,000-sq.-ft. location, including truck center, which sits on a seven-acre piece of property formerly occupied by a trailer manufacturing facility. Bob Glenn is managing the new site, which has additional warehousing on it that is being used for tire casing storage.
Last year Hill Tire-which is owned by Fred Hill, who is CEO, and boasts in ads of ``serving Atlanta for 25 years''-sold about 45,000 new truck tires including Bridgestone/Firestone-made brands, Michelin, BFGoodrich, Sumitomo and Yokohama and the Geostar and Freestar Chinese brands. It produced 49,000 retread units, according to Mr. Vickers, ``and we expect to grow the retreading end of the business in Valdosta.''
Another somewhat under-the-radar aspect of the company is its membership in Southeast Tire Group L.L.C. ``It's a service network team and tire buying group,'' Mr. Vickers explained. ``I wrote that program myself.''
The six independent mostly Georgia-based dealer members buy Bridgestone/Firestone and Yokohama products through the group and also do cross-service networking for each other. ``We've been pretty quiet,'' he acknowledged. ``It was a tactic to go to market-we had to do it to compete with the big boys.'' He's an ex-Bridgestone rep and, before that, a Michelin rep, ``so I knew the players and knew we had to compete with them.''
While Hill Tire's expansion plans are on track, its sales also have been ticking upward, so far this year growing 20 percent over 2004 results. Last year they were up 15 percent vs. 2003, he said, and should continue to grow-especially with the new store adding to the bottom line.
In the ``near future'' the company expects further expansion. Mr. Vickers said Hill Tire is scouting for a site in northeast Georgia to add a fifth store from the ground up. ``We know within five miles where we want it. We just haven't found the real estate yet.''
The company services ``hundreds'' of fleets, he said. ``We do a lot of independent owner-operated businesses, several large fleets, and also are heavily involved in the construction, on-/off-road and ready mix businesses. Our customer base is quite extensive.''
Of its projected $17 million in sales for 2005, Mr. Vickers expects 65 percent to be in new-tire sales with the remainder in retreading and repairs.
Like most dealerships, he finds one of Hill's biggest concerns is ``people. Management people. With expansion and growth, it's hard to find people. We can't grow fast enough-you train and build them from inside. It's just a slow process. If you try to steal them (from a competitor), you don't keep `em stolen for very long. They tend to jump, and jumping ship will hurt you.''
Another major concern is the ``survivability of the fleets we do business with,'' Mr. Vickers continued. ``Because of the continual rise in costs they have, several of them have suffered profitability issues and, of course, that trickles down to us. We have some problems on collections-that's a little bit of a problem...it's been tight this year.''
Still, from all indications, it sounds like the dealership's really on the move. Tell that to Mr. Vickers, though, and he prefers instead to joke: ``No, we're just crazy and we don't know any better. If we had any common sense, we'd sell out and go retire. But Fred (Hill) just loves this business.''