It's no secret that when tire dealers want to improve their businesses, they congregate to accomplish more than they could individually.
That's a big reason why marketing groups form and a big reason why some of the largest independent commercial dealerships in the U.S. have created the American Commercial Tire Network (ACTN) to offer reciprocal emergency road service to each company's non-national account customers at an established pricing level. As Peter Gerry, president of Orange, Mass.-based Pete's Tire Barns Inc. and an ACTN member, put it, the group is ``just trying to do better and sharing the costs.''
Founded in 1999, the ACTN boasts some industry heavyweights: Snider Tire Inc.; Bob Sumerel Tire Co.; Pomp's Tire Service Inc.; Redburn Tire; Southern Tire Mart L.L.C.; Parkhouse Tire Inc.; Valley Tire Co.; and Belle Tire Distributors, among others. The ACTN has 17 members operating 345 locations plus 1,700 service trucks and 5,700 employees, according to ACTN President John Snider. Combined revenues of the member companies total $1.4 billion.
Mr. Snider, also president of Snider Tire, emphasized that the ACTN is not a buying group but a limited liability corporation (L.L.C.) comprising individual owners, yet the corporation has no ownership in any of the member businesses. The ACTN elects six members to a management board, which then appoints the L.L.C.'s officers, he said.
Members pay an equity ownership fee to belong to the group, but Mr. Snider declined to disclose the amount other than to say, ``It's reasonable.'' A dealership also doesn't need to be large to join the ACTN as the group's member dealerships vary in size, he explained.
``Initially, it was more geographic, just trying to have people in certain areas of the country that could fill in holes in our service network,'' he said. ``That was really more important than size.''
Mr. Snider said he has received a number of inquiries from dealers who would like to join the ACTN, but the group hasn't actively added new members since 2002. ``It's not that we won't add anymore, it just becomes a little cumbersome with what we're trying to do.... We just haven't made a decision to add any new members,'' Mr. Snider said.
The ACTN has expanded beyond road service into financial benchmarking, leadership training and contracting with a call center to route all after-hours dispatching for each member company, he said. The L.L.C. paid the Tire Industry Association to produce training videos-a wheel torque video last year and a video on road service calls this year, Mr. Snider said. The ACTN also sponsored three leadership training sessions over four months to ``identify the next generation of leaders in our companies'' and teach them financial statement analysis.
The group doesn't advertise itself to fleets, though Yokohama Tire Corp. recently ran an ad in a trucking trade publication that mentioned the ACTN and listed all the member dealerships, Mr. Snider noted, adding that the group is looking at advertising options. He said each service truck is shod with decals sporting the ACTN logo.
About three or four years ago, the ACTN partnered with Richmond, Va.-based Eagle Teleservice to centralize dispatching calls for the group. In 2004 alone, the call center handled 40,000 service calls for the group, Mr. Snider said, noting that the call center is one of the ways the ACTN has evolved.
``We will try to continue to look for a way to leverage our collective strength to pursue activities that make sense for all of us,'' he said. ``The relationship with the call center that we have is one that evolved, and I think it's been a very good thing for all of us.''
However, not all of the ACTN's proposed initiatives have panned out. The group looked at starting a captive insurance program, then decided it was better off paying a retainer for an insurance consultant. The ACTN also explored a private brand credit card, but the initiative didn't materialize-though it still might-as members do have ``pretty sizable businesses'' to operate, said Mr. Snider, who has been appointed and re-appointed to serve one-year terms and will finish his current stint in November.