COLUMBUS, Ohio—Clyde “Mr. Tire” Hampton may be edging toward 70 years old, but he is still raring to fight a Goliath to keep his good name.
Mr. Hampton has been operating his Mr. Tire of Columbus commercial tire dealership since 2000. But a few months ago Goliath—aka Monro Muffler Brake Inc. of Rochester, N.Y.—entered the Columbus market with its Mr. Tire chain, having renamed 13 former ProCare Automotive service outlets it bought earlier this year.
Monro operates more than 700 automotive service locations, including 115 tire dealerships—87 as Mr. Tire Auto Service Centers and 28 as Tread Quarters Discount Tire.
There's no affiliation between the Mr. Tire retail tire outlets and the Mr. Tire of Columbus commercial tire outlet, but the confused consumers of Columbus don't seem to know that.
“We get 45 calls a day from people wanting to know 'What's your number in Dublin (Ohio) or on Marsh Street?' We don't have locations there,” said a frustrated Mr. Hampton, who operates only one outlet. To make matters worse, the Better Business Bureau mistakenly called his dealership with a customer complaint about the other Mr. Tire. And Mr. Hampton said there were three people who don't work for him who filed state workers' compensation claims with his company, even though the address on the complaint belonged to that other Mr. Tire guy.
“It's unreal,” he said. To add insult to injury, Monro sent him a letter in June asking him to “cease and desist” using the Mr. Tire name, to which he said he sent a similar letter asking the same thing of Monro in the Columbus market.
“They thought I'd lay over dead,” he said. But he plans to take the issue to court because he has the “Mr. Tire of Columbus” name licensed in the State of Ohio until 2010 and has signage, ads and other printed materials using the now disputed name.
Keystone Tire & Auto Supply Inc. in Wilmerding, Pa., operates three retail tire stores in southeast Ohio under the Mr. Tire name. When contacted by Tire Business, owner Mark Greenwald said he has “big problems” with Monro's Mr. Tire chain moving into Ohio but declined to comment further. The dealership has the name “Mr. Tire” registered with the state of Ohio.
However, Monro has a licensing agreement with Universal Cooperatives Inc. of Eagan, Minn., which owns the federal trademark for “Mr. Tire.” Universal is a farm cooperative and retail marketing group with about 130 affiliated dealership locations operating as Mr. Tire Service Centers in 13 Midwestern states.
Earlier this year Monro extended its licensing agreement to cover several states east of the Mississippi River—in markets where Monro's Mr. Tire won't be competing with Universal's Mr. Tire, according to the two companies. Joseph Tomarchio Jr., Monro's executive vice president of store operations, added that if in the future Monro would open locations in Universal's market, Monro would use the Tread Quarters name.
Meanwhile, Monro wants Mr. Hampton—and several other independent tire dealerships also operating as “Mr. Tire”—to “alter their brand,” Mr. Tomarchio said, preferably voluntarily but, if necessary, by court order. In addition to two Mr. Tire dealerships in Ohio, he is aware of one in Florida and one in New England. However, right now the company is more concerned about the other Mr. Tire operations in the markets Monro currently operates in.
“We have substantial foundation and footing to base our action on,” he said. “If we didn't, we could have easily launched our Tread Quarters brand (in Ohio), which is our nationally exclusive trademark.
“We wouldn't have entered Ohio with Mr. Tire if we didn't feel we had a solid foundation to base the brand on and to protect the brand.”
In addition to his business use of the name, Mr. Hampton said people know him by the moniker. “Ask anyone who Mr. Tire is and they'll say 'Clyde Hampton,'” he told Tire Business. He said he acquired the “Mr. Tire” nickname about 35 years ago while working at a General Tire dealership. His manager was so impressed with how many tires he could sell that the manager suggested he should get a “Mr. Tire” vanity license plate.
He has worked in the commercial tire business for 50 years, first working for General Tire and then, at age 64, starting his own dealership, which generates $3 million in sales annually. Now approaching 70, he has no plans to retire.
“I have a great name in Columbus,” he said. As for Monro's Mr. Tire encroachment into his market, he added: “It's not fair.”
Ironically, Mr. Tomarchio was involved in a similar dispute over the Mr. Tire name years ago. He and his brother Fred opened a Mr. Tire dealership in Baltimore, which was incorporated in Maryland in 1970. He said initially they didn't think they needed a federal trademark. Unbeknownst to them, “Mr. Tire” was already trademarked by a company in 1969, he said. Through acquisition, the trademark ended up with S&M Co. of Minnesota, which contacted Mr. Tomarchio about the trademark infringement.
His dealership settled with the company, which later was bought by Universal Cooperatives. Monro eventually bought the Tomarchios' Mr. Tire dealership chain and has been expanding it ever since.