OK, so here's the dilemma: You're a retreader and you need tires for one of your company's vehicles but you don't seem to have them in stock. What do you do?
Faced with that predicament, BR Retreading Inc. did what most probably wouldn't do.
``We live in a small rural town,'' BR President Dennis Bull said, recapping the scenario. ``...We needed a set of tires for one of our trucks on a Saturday morning and there wasn't a place within 30 miles of us that had anything, except for a couple of small tire stores and a humongous Wal-Mart.''
Oh, they eventually found what they needed. But that little episode provided the impetus for BR's deciding to open its first retail/commercial outlet five years ago, after operating only a retreading plant in its home base of Glasgow since Mr. Bull and company owner/CEO Brad Ragan Jr. started BR in October 1995.
``We just felt like there was a need for it,'' Mr. Bull continued, ``so we opened that first one.''
As they say, by ``popular demand'' BR execs increasingly were seeing ``people coming in saying, `Can you do this for us? Can you do that?''' he said. ``So we got bigger and got booked up.''
When a local property became available, ``We just grabbed a hold of it.''
On Dec. 1 the company opened its latest venture, a strictly retail outlet, also in Glasgow, that operates as BR Tire & Automotive Service Inc. The approximately 4,000-sq.-ft. location, which is being leased, has three bays, a sales office and warehouse. In comparison, the older store-about 60 percent commercial vs. 40 percent retail-``is a lot bigger,'' Mr. Bull said, with six bays and a truck lift that can handle straight trucks up to two tons. It and the retread plant sit on 15 acres owned by the company.
Alan Martin, who has been with BR more than 15 years, manages the new location, which is overseen by Blake Towe, the company's commercial, retail and retreading manager. The shop handles everything, including brakes, alignments, mechanical, undercar and underhood but no exhaust work, Mr. Bull said.
A Goodyear commercial dealership, BR also sells Firestone farm tires and handles Michelin and BFGoodrich brands. It added industrial tires and a press truck about a year ago. ``That's been a real good business for us,'' he said.
The retreading plant averaged 10 medium truck tires per day in 2007, used approximately 6.5 million pounds of tread rubber for the production of off-the-road tire retreads. It also retreads industrial and solid tires. Retread-only sales were $20 million last year and are projected to remain about the same in 2008.
The company-which also operates four service trucks-opened a truck and diesel repair shop on Oct. 1, 2006, that has a licensed DOT-certified mechanic. While it doesn't undertake major overhauls, it does everything else-brakes, airbags, lights, clutches, bearings, according to Mr. Bull, and runs a 24-hour emergency service operation from that location.
Again, that shop evolved from need. BR runs its own fleet of trucks that cover 22 states-nine tractors and 12 trailers that pick up tires for retreading-``so that was another reason to have a truck shop,'' he said.
At this point the dealership doesn't have any other new locations on the drawing board. ``I think we're just trying to maintain now,'' Mr. Bull said, adding with a laugh, ``as they say, just have all the fun you can stand and all that you want!''
That ``fun,'' however, doesn't seem to be carrying over to what the company's been facing in fuel and energy costs.
``Diesel fuel's just wearing us out. It's something else,'' he said, sounding beleaguered. ``It went from costing us $6,700 a week to over $12,000 last week.
``You can't pass it along because our customers are all paying it also. We're not like a freight company that can put a fuel surcharge on you. We have to run those trucks because our dealer network that we're with are all having to run their trucks.
``So we're trying to find other ways to offset that cost by minimizing something.''
That means ``we have got to make sure in our retreading plant, for example, that we double watch our overtime. We're not doing any now. And we're making sure, when our trucks run a route, to use phone calls more often and try to drive fewer miles but still see those people.
``But we don't do everything with a phone call. I like to put the truck on the (customer's) lot.''
Mr. Bull doesn't see much hope for relief in sight due to a weak dollar vs. the euro and the continuing rise in oil prices. ``There's plenty of oil but not that many refineries in the U.S.,'' he said. ``We cut that back a long time ago in this country, and I think they need to take another look at that.''
While not that long ago he acknowledged he used to say that ``finding good people'' was the biggest problem facing the dealership, ``that's not it anymore. We don't have a lot of turnover...we've got a lot of good young people working for us.''
No, the largest hit to the bottom line has come from a big rise in energy costs.
BR's electric bill has reached $16,000 per month and its natural gas bill tops $20,000, he said. ``The other day the employee who handles the bills asked me if we're doing something different. I said no, and she said our electric bill went up $2,000 in one month.
``We don't have any control over that. Those companies do rate increases and just pass them on to everybody. You just have to fend for yourself.''
Another ``huge problem'' is health care costs, he continued. ``We try to give employees insurance and it's so expensive. They can't pay a lot of it and so we have to pay more of it.''
The dealership has about 100 employees. Ten years ago it had 25.
Because it's in a region that's home to a large printing plant and several automotive-related factories, Mr. Bull said BR has to ``pay well above the average pay in order to compete with the larger companies.'' The dealership is, he added, very centrally located-about 100 miles south of Louisville, Ky., and 80 miles north of Nashville, Tenn.
Mr. Bull, who is the Tire Industry Association's OTR Group chairman for 2008 and 2009, has been in the industry 37 years and readily admits, ``I've never experienced the tire business as I have the last three years. It's been something else, what with the prices of tires and shortages.''
That has helped make BR ``a very customer-oriented company,'' he said, ``because we've had to jump through some hoops to help some folks out. They either need product, or need it back pretty quick.
``You build customers and you build loyalty that way.''