The commercial tire scene in North America saw three major shifts in the past 12 months-the rapid rise to prominence by Southern Tire Mart, the continued consolidation by Bandag Inc.'s Tire Distribution Systems (TDS) Inc. unit and explosive growth in the off-the-road tire market.
Southern Tire Mart, the reincarnation of a major retreading/commercial tire force from the 1990s, has grown in two years from a start-up company (albeit, well-heeled start-up) to the No. 3 commercial tire dealer and No. 6 truck tire retreader.
Owned and operated by Thomas and James Duff, Southern Tire Mart resurfaced in March 2003, taking over 14 commercial outlets and six retread plants in Louisiana and Mississippi. Most of the assets were the same ones the Duffs had sold to Bandag in 1997 as part of the creation of TDS.
The Duffs since have acquired 19 more outlets and seven retread plants to push the business to 33 outlets and 13 plants in five states. Sales have grown to $210 million with 700 employees.
Les Schwab Tire Centers Inc. is rated North America's largest commercial dealership, with $356.6 million in sales in 2005, up 43 percent over 2004 and slightly ahead of the $343.2 million reported by Kal Tire of Vernon, British Columbia.
Commercial tires and retreads accounted for a significantly larger share of Les Schwab's business than in years past, the company reported. Included in the growth was output from two new retread plants, a Marangoni RingTread (RTS) unit in Spokane, Wash., and a plant in Rupert, Idaho, with RTS and other precure capacity.
Tirecraft Auto Centers Ltd. of Sherwood Park, Alberta, No. 4 on this year's list, solidified its commercial business last year by buying its primary retread supplier, Canadian Treads Corp. of Edmonton, Alberta, and consolidating its existing retread activities with those of Canadian Treads.
With most companies growing measurably last year, Tire Business' annual ranking of commercial dealerships now contains 14 companies with sales of $100 million or more. The top 50 dealers combined for $3.91 billion in sales-up nearly 20 percent over 2004-with 1,660 outlets, or $2.36 million per outlet.
On the trucking front, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) reported that its advanced seasonally adjusted for-hire Truck Tonnage Index fell in February, the first monthly decline since last August.
Although the 2.5-percent dip put the seasonally adjusted index at its lowest level since September, the ATA said the industry shouldn't be alarmed.
``The string of consecutive monthly increases was bound to come to an end at some point,'' ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said. ``Motor carriers have been telling us that volumes have been fair recently and our index clearly reflects that sentiment.
``We continue to believe that motor carriers should expect modest growth in volumes going forward,'' he said, ``and the latest decrease should not alarm the industry.''
Trucking serves as a barometer of the U.S. economy, according to the ATA, because it represents nearly 70 percent of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods.
Trucks hauled 9.8 billion tons of freight in 2004. Motor carriers collected $671 billion-or just under 88 percent of total revenue earned by all transport modes, the ATA reported.
After a robust market last year-medium truck/bus tire replacement shipments were up 7.6 percent in the U.S.-shipments are expected to level out this year, growing only about 1.6 percent to 17.8 million units, according to the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA). Annualized growth through 2011 is projected at just less than 1 percent.
Last year's growth came entirely in imported tires. Production of truck tires in the U.S. fell slightly to 15.5 million units while imports shot up 37.6 percent, according to the RMA data.
On the original equipment side of the equation, demand will continue to grow modestly due to continued vehicle replacement demand and response to future changes in Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emission regulations, before plunging as much as 15 percent in 2007.
The strong demand last year for off-the-road tires and a steady increase in truck traffic volume should help retreaders this year, the RMA said, as U.S. tread rubber shipments will grow 2.8 percent.
This would mark the fourth consecutive year of increased shipments, the RMA said, and represents about 16.4 million retreaded tires.
The increase compares with a rise of 1.9 percent in 2005, which was a half-point less than the RMA forecast at mid-year.
Continued strength in construction, increases in the number of trucks, expansion in the manufacturing sector and positive freight trends should sustain growth of 1.7 percent through 2008, the RMA said.
The relationship between new tire pricing and retread unit pricing has been narrowing primarily due to the prices for retreads increasing at a faster rate than for new tires, Bandag said in its 10K form, and lower-priced imported new tires entering the market.
Generally, the firm added, a decreasing new-tire-to-retread price ratio will put downward pressure on retread pricing and tend to increase the use of relatively less expensive new tires instead of retreads. Increases in imports of low-priced new tires and moves by major new tire makers to source more tires overseas have exacerbated this situation.
Goodyear is considered the No. 1 truck tire brand in North America, with an estimated 17.5 percent of the market, marginally ahead of Michelin (17 percent) and Bridgestone (15.5 percent). Together Goodyear and its Dunlop, Kelly and Steelmark brands account for about 22 percent of the market, ahead of Bridgestone and Firestone (21.5 percent) and Michelin/BFGoodrich (19 percent).
Bandag claims tires retreaded by its franchisees represent about 22 percent of the U.S. truck tire market.
Besides the largest independents ranked in this issue, Goodyear, Michelin, Bridgestone/Firestone and Bandag all compete with their own chains-Wingfoot Commercial Tire Systems L.L.C., TCI Tire Centers L.L.C., GCR Tire Centers and TDS, respectively.
TCI performed ``satisfactorily'' last year in terms of volume sales and profits, according to the Group Michelin annual report. This was in spite of rising fuel bills.
During the year TCI continued to extend its service offerings beyond tires, enhancing customer loyalty through higher added value, the parent company said. TCI, which uses the moniker ``Centered on Service,'' offers a range of services, including emergency road calls, mounted wheel programs, wheel refurbishing, alignment, scrap tire disposal, etc.
TCI launched a program last year of bundled services especially for its locally billed customers called Centered on Customer Commitment (C3). TCI operates 113 commercial locations in 39 states with 700 service vehicles and 15 MRTI plants in 12 states.
After selling or closing 65 locations during 2003-2004, TDS rebounded slightly last year, acquiring five locations, including one retread plant.
The divestitures and closures resulted in a 16-percent drop in TDS's fiscal 2005 sales, to $168.6 million, but operating earnings shot up fourfold to $6.58 million on lower operating costs and lower insurance reserves, Bandag said.
The stores acquired last year were from Silver State Tire Co. in Nevada and Fakler Tire in Utah. It spent nearly $3 million on the acquisitions.
It now operates 45 outlets and 15 retread plants.
Bandag declined to comment on further divestiture/acquisition plans, but in general said it will continue to divest TDS locations where an independent Bandag dealer is willing to buy the location and when it is a sensible decision for the company to sell. Bandag also will continue to purchase locations for TDS if it is necessary to maintain distribution in an area.
Goodyear did not comment on the performance of Wingfoot, but the Fort Smith, Ark.-based subsidiary added a net of six stores in the past year, including the addition of eight Pilot Truck Care Centers that it is operating under contract to Pilot Travel Centers L.L.C. Pilot and Wingfoot earlier said they hope to expand the deal beyond the eight outlets. Pilot operates 271 travel centers in 40 states and licenses 13 locations in four states.
Wingfoot operates 178 outlets and 59 retread plants in the U.S.
GCR added a Bandag retread shop in Coburg, Ore., during the year.
New to TB's rankings this year are: Highlands' Tire & Service in Carlisle, Pa, No. 47 with $20 million in sales; White's Tire Service of Wilson in Wilson, N.C., No. 49 with sales of $18.7 million; and Ozarko Tire Centers Inc. of West Plains, Mo., No. 50 with sales of $18 million.
Other dealerships/retreaders making news include:
* J.A.R. Rubber Corp., which does business as Ranger Tires and East Coast Retreaders, is relocating Marangoni-RTS and Elgi Tread precure capacity at its Farmingdale, N.Y., headquarters to a larger facility (41,000 vs. 10,000 square feet), which will allow capacity to nearly quadruple to about 400 units a day. The vacated space will be devoted to Hawkinson mold cure retreading. Ranger Tires also has a second RTS plant in Farmingdale and a Goodyear/Ultima plant in West Babylon, N.Y.
* Pacific Coast Retreaders Inc. of Oakland, Calif., expanded cross-country, adding plants in Festus, Mo., and Orange, N.J., early in the fourth quarter.
* Colony Tire Corp., a longtime Goodyear dealer and retreader, switched its retread plant in Edenton, N.C., to Bandag last October. The plant is capable of producing 400 tires a day, according to the company's Web site.
Colony Tire executives declined to comment on the reasons for the switch. The project coincided with an $800,000 expansion of warehouse/distribution space in Edenton, where Colony is adding 25,000 square feet to an 80,000-sq.-ft warehouse, according to information from the office of North Carolina Gov. Michael F. Easley.
* Eastern Tire Service Ltd. is shifting more production into light truck and larger (17- and 18-inch) passenger sizes, reflecting the changing marketplace, said Gerald Holmes, president of the New Glasgow, Nova Scotia-based firm.
``We just put in molds for 235/55-17s,'' he said, ``for the New York taxi cab fleets.''
* Gem City Tire of Dayton, Ohio, bought out Suburban Tire Inc., also in Dayton, giving it five outlets with commercial sales and service.
* Best One Group member Southern Indiana Tire added a Bandag retread plant in Jackson, Mo.-the group's 17th plant, operating as Best One Fleet Service of Cape Girardeau Inc. Best One is the fourth largest retreader in North America, with 2005 output of 2,145 retreads a day (equal to 13 million pounds of tread rubber).
* Chicago Bandag Inc. closed its Traverse City, Mich., retread plant, leaving it with six plants in Illinois and Michigan. The production was absorbed primarily by the Wyoming, Mich., plant, the company said. Despite the closure, Chicago Bandag increased production last year 13.6 percent to 1,250 tires a day at the remaining plants.
* Kal Tire of Vernon, British Columbia, expanded its Grande Prairie, Alberta, plant last year and plans to add capacity at its Prince George and Kamloops, British Columbia, and Edmonton, Alberta, plants while also relocating the Abbortsford, British Columbia, plant to larger quarters in Chilliwock, British Columbia.
* Service Tire Truck Centers (STTC) Inc. of Bethlehem, Pa., bought Yingling Tire Service Inc. in Westminster, Md.-commercial outlets in Westminster and Finksburg, Md.-but later closed the Bandag retread plant in Finksburg and sold two retail outlets to Bay Area Tire.
STTC is evaluating its growth options into two new markets, northern Virginia and eastern New Jersey, either by acquisition or new outlets.
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Top truck tire brands
Brands: Percent of market