If walls could talk, there would be a few that could spill the beans on some of the most successful independent tire dealers' secrets.
Even if they could, though, they'd have signed a confidentiality agreement long ago.
Now in its fifth year, the National Retail Tire Network is a marketing group of sorts where 12 tire dealer members dish on their businesses' most closely held tactics to help each other solve problems and improve their bottom lines. The members-who have all signed agreements vowing not to disclose specifics-meet three times a year, rotating among members' businesses.
The group could possibly add as many as three more dealers this year to round out its geographic coverage on the West Coast, but its growth is likely to slow at about 15 members to avoid crowding markets. None of the dealers competes in the same region. Potential new members are interviewed by the group, and the existing members vote on whether to allow the new business.
Craig Sumerel, president of Bob Sumerel Tire Co. Inc. in Erlanger, Ky., had wanted to start a peer advisory group in the tire industry, and in 2000 he teamed up with Barry Steinberg, president and CEO of Direct Tire & Auto Service in Watertown, Mass., to form the group. More members have joined sporadically since then.
``It was just so great to have a sounding board of other people that are in non-competing businesses that you can share very confidential stuff with and get some input from,'' Mr. Steinberg said.
Mr. Sumerel said he had some apprehension in the beginning at the thought of sharing his business' best practices, but he knew similar groups had worked well in other industries. He's not aware of any similar groups in the tire industry outside of the more traditional marketing and buying groups.
``It's a great group of people, and I think it's been one of the best things that's ever happened to us,'' he told Tire Business.
Mr. Sumerel and Mr. Steinberg earlier this year were recognized by Inc. magazine in its ``26 Most Fascinating Entrepreneurs'' report for forming the group.
Other members are: Action/Gator Tire Stores in Orlando, Fla.; Colony Tire Corp. in Edenton, N.C.; Conrad's Total Car Care and Tire Centers in Cleveland; Craven Tire & Auto in Fairfax, Va.; Dobbs Tire & Auto Centers Inc. in High Ridge, Mo.; Nebraskaland/Kansasland Tire Group in Lexington, Neb.; Pomp's Tire Service Inc. in Green Bay, Wis.; Sun Tire Inc. in Jacksonville, Fla.; and Valley Tire Co. in Charleroi, Pa.
While the group primarily is a professional peer group, members are able to leverage their buying power for some incentives from vendors. The 12 members have roughly 275 total locations, sell about 3 million tires a year and report revenues of about $500 million annually. But both Mr. Sumerel and Mr. Steinberg said the main function is the group's advisory role.
Mr. Sumerel said in some ways the group does perform some functions similar to a traditional marketing or buying group such as Tire Alliance Groupe or American Car Care Centers Inc., but the National Retail Tire Network is not likely to become a full-fledged marketing group with similar branding, he said. The main focus remains on solving problems and benchmarking practices.
Members are expected to be very candid about their struggles then report back on their progress with the same candor.
``We expect everyone to be very upfront about everything,'' Mr. Sumerel said. ``There's really no secrets. That's the only way it's going to be successful is if we have that openness and sharing.''
Mr. Steinberg said the group also sometimes brings in experts to talk about topics, including advertising or employee benefits.
``It's a nice opportunity to know you're not the only one entrenched in problems and issues,'' Mr. Steinberg said.
The group also has a social aspect, he said. Charlie Creighton of Colony Tire hosted the last meeting and shared a dinner at his home. ``It's just a nice opportunity to sit and relax with friends in a crazy industry,'' he said, laughing.