Forget those four for $99 tire deals. In Windsor, the deal is more like four Cooper tires for a World War II Springfield rifle and Swedish Mauser.
It all depends on the gun and the tire, said Bill Bennett, co-owner of Bennett Tire Co.'s Gun and Knife Shop.
The tire shop was opened in 1932 by Mr. Bennett's father, who retired about 20 years ago. Mr. Bennett and his brother Bob now run it. They sell primarily Cooper, Goodyear, Michelin, BFGoodrich and Dayton brands of passenger tires plus some agricultural and commercial tires. The business also has a wholesale operation and does limited automotive service.
In 1990, Bob Bennett's interest in guns plus the proceeds from a mature certificate of deposit led the brothers to consider a sideline business to give a shot in the arm, so to speak, to the dealership's bottom line. The brothers formed a retail operation to sell handguns, shotguns, rifles and some antique firearms. That business now represents 15-20 percent of the overall company's commerce.
``It's another way to make some more money, just to diversify,'' Bill Bennett said. ``That's what everybody needs to do.... This was just something completely different, we had some room for it and it's turned out to be a really good thing for us.''
That's not to say the gun shop has been a totally easy ride. When the outlet first opened, it was robbed three times. Bill Bennett said they recovered all the weapons, the perpetrators are behind bars and the shop's security was beefed up drastically.
The difficulty now is rising insurance rates. Despite the improved security, Bill Bennett said some insurance companies were hesitant about liability. The liability question also would likely preclude the business from ever opening a firing range, he said. The gun retail business itself necessitates very careful bookkeeping and adherence to multiple laws.
``It's very controlled and you really have to watch your paperwork,'' he said. ``You really have to follow the letter of the law. We don't deviate one bit.''
Getting the shop's federal firearm license wasn't a big problem, he said, but he again stressed how important it is to ``keep your nose clean.'' Still, Bob Bennett said, those same difficulties are weeding out other firearm competitors.
``Those that are left, it seems like they are doing more and more business,'' he said.
The gun shop has been a hit with customers. Bill Bennett said he's never had an uncomfortable tire patron walk out. Instead, they routinely shop in the gun section while they wait for tires. Farmers who also are avid hunters are frequent visitors.
Bob Bennett said many of his gun customers have gone on to purchase tires and vice versa. Customers drive in from up to 100 miles away to trade in guns, and families often trade in weapons from deceased relatives in exchange for new tires. Women, gaining an interest in handguns, account for about 15 percent of the firearm business, he said.
``It's really strange how it's complemented each other,'' he said of the two businesses.
As another testament to the profitable pairing of guns and tires, Bob Bennett said the gun business is often slow in the summer while tire sales are flying, and firearm sales heat up during hunting season when the tire market slows in the winter. ``It helps keep the cash flow coming in,'' he added.
So far this year the firearm business has grown every month. After a slow start, the tire business is doing better and is ``steady,'' he said.
Bill Bennett said they didn't have much trouble assembling the firearm inventory in the beginning. ``Once you are in good with your suppliers and you see what the area people want, it doesn't take long,'' he said. His brother agreed, adding that with some knowledge about the firearm business, tire dealers in rural areas could benefit from a similar arrangement to compete against the larger retail tire chains.
Blending gun and tire businesses is not as disparate as it sounds, he continued. ``They're about the same because the government's in both parts real strong,'' he said.