Xpress Tire & Auto Supply Inc., a buying and marketing group managed by Cleveland's Conrad's Tire Express & Total Tire Car Care, has grown to 159 locations in northeastern Ohio in the three years since its inception.
The Xpress Tire network stretches throughout 11 Ohio counties to the east, west and south of Cleveland.
The program offers its participants competitive prices on tires, the power of collective advertising and provides Conrad's Tire with added wholesale volume that boosts its marketing clout with its suppliers. Conrad's declined to comment on the size of the program in unit or dollar-volume terms, but if each participant sells just one set of tires a day, it would represent nearly 175,000 tires annually.
The majority of the Xpress Tire participants are single-outlet auto repair shops looking to add a reliable source of tires to round out their product portfolios, according to Dan Cochran, sales manager for the program.
There are some traditional tire retailers in the group as well, Mr. Cochran said, and a scan of the locations on the Xpress Tire website also shows car dealerships, filling stations and car parts stores among the program's participants.
Xpress Tire is separate from Conrad's own retail business, which comprises 30 stores throughout northeast Ohio.
Conrad's does not charge participants to be part of the program but sets minimum purchasing volumes, Mr. Cochran said, without disclosing what those volumes are. There are volume-based rebate possibilities, however, he said.
Originally program participants were charged a fee, but that changed within the past year. Participants can opt in or out at any time, he added.
Conrad's offers Xpress Tire dealers up to three deliveries daily from its warehouses in Cleveland and Akron, Mr. Cochran said. The frequency depends on distance from those locations.
Xpress Tire dealers can offer their customers a choice from among 11 tire brands, according to the program's websiteBF- Goodrich, Continental, Cooper, Dunlop, General, Goodyear, Hankook, Michelin, Pirelli, Uniroyal and Yokohamabut Conrad's describes Cooper as the program's flagship brand.
Conrad's/Xpress Tire has more than 50,000 tires in stock at any time, the program's website states. The firm also has begun offering lubricants, shop accessories and equipment and some hard parts, Mr. Cochran said.
The number of participants is not staticthe number shown on the website's store location finder, for example, recently dropped to 159 from 174and is limited somewhat by Conrad's geographical footprint.
For Dave Christopher, owner of Christopher's Car Care Inc. in Tallmadge, Ohio, being affiliated with Xpress Tire allows him to offer his customers tires when the opportunity arises without having to devote resources to stocking them on site.
We've always sold tires, he said, but with Xpress delivering three or four times a day, it makes it easier and more affordable.
I've also had a few new customers come in because of the advertising Xpress does, he added, and through the Xpress Tire website.
Mr. Christopher has been affiliated with Xpress Tire since the beginning and said the program has had its ups and downs. They probably tried to grow it too fast, he said, adding that overall it's a solid program.
Christopher's Car Care sells on average three to four sets of tires a week, he said, mostly Cooper brand. The business in in its 29th year.
Dave Justice, owner of Parkway Auto Care in Berea, Ohio, and Strongsville Express Tire & Auto Service in the neighboring community of Strongsville, touts Xpress Tire for a number of reasons, including the tire selection, competitive pricing on both tires and other parts, frequent deliveries and other intangibles, such as access to training for his technicians.
Mr. Justice, who opened the eight-bay Strongsville store last September, has been part of Xpress Tire since its inception and sat on the program's board initially. He was a wholesale customer of Conrad's prior to the creation of Xpress Tire.
He's also a G3X direct dealer with Goodyear and his shops are affiliated with NAPA Auto Care.
Mr. Justice describes Xpress Tire as more of a partnership than a wholesaler-customer relationship, noting he brings more than 35 years of tire and auto repair experience to the table. That type of business relationship leads to meetings a few times throughout the year where participants can gather to discuss the program's direction and chat about business both with Conrad's people and the other Xpress Tire dealers, he noted.
Maintaining a high level of integrity among participants is key to Parkway Auto Care's being part of the program.
Bottom line, he said, you have to ask yourself, 'What's the value of the program?'
For Bob Stout, owner of Fuerst Automotive in Cleveland, Xpress Tire is one more tool in his toolbox to help attract new customers and retain existing ones.
I realized some time ago every business has to have growth (to survive), Mr. Stout said, and this is a way to expand my business.
Fuerst Automotive's business is about 80-percent auto repair, he said, but having a reliable source of tires delivered daily gives the firm the chance to add tires to the ticket when the situation calls for it. Mr. Stout estimates he sells 60 to 100 tires a month.
A former Conrad's Tire employee himself, Mr. Stout has high regard for Conrad's wholesale personnel, especially Mr. Cochran. Mr. Stout and his wife Sherri bought Fuerst Automotive in 1983.
Other program features Xpress Tire lists on its website include: inventory management system; merchandising support, including point-of-purchase displays; online tire ordering; road-hazard warranties; and co-op rebates earned on eligible purchases.
As with any program, there will be those who would like improvements.
Jim Ripley, owner of Copley Auto Care in Copley, Ohio, and one of the original program adherents, would like to see some semblance of territorial boundaries, especially after a competing car repair shop a mile away also joined the program.
On the positive side, Mr. Ripley said he doesn't have the room or resources to store many tires, so having the possibility of multiple deliveries on any given day is key.
Some participants have concerns about Conrad's status as both a supplier and, with its own network of retail stores, a potential competitor, but those Tire Business spoke with said thus far Conrad's has maintained a clear separation between the two most of the time.
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