It can be intimidating for smaller independent tire dealerships when they see how big some of North America's largest independent tire dealerships are getting.
How can one-, two- or three-outlet dealerships compete with these behemoths? Giants that, if recent history continues unabated, are likely to keep on expanding.
This year's ranking by Tire Business of North America's largest independent tire dealerships illustrates how massive some of these outfits have become.
The six largest chains each have more than 400 company-owned locations. This compares with only two such outfits 10 years ago. In fact, 2008's fourth largest dealership, Canada's Kal Tire, had 157 locations, with the next two chains having even fewer.
Discount Tire/ America's Tire, North America's largest independent tire dealership, heads this year's list, having opened its 1,000th store this year.
It now has 1,001 company-owned outlets in the U.S. compared with 716 locations 10 years ago, an increase of nearly 300 over the 10-year span.
Next is TBC Corp., with 731 stores versus 688 a decade ago, followed by Mavis Discount Tire, which has grown by nearly 300 locations to 649 outlets. Rounding out the top six are Monro Inc. with 637 stores, up from 157 in 2008, Pep Boys with 464 stores (Pep Boys was not considered an independent dealership in 2008 and was thus unranked) and Les Schwab Tires with 421, up from 352.
While size can be a factor in a dealership's success — especially in terms of buying power and marketing clout — it is not the end-all in terms of performance. What continues to distinguish one dealership from others, large or small, is the level of customer service.
If the quality of customer service is high, there's a good chance the dealership will do well.
Savvy tire dealers get this point and address it in various ways.
John Quirk, chairman of VIP Tires & Service, with 58 outlets in New England says his business is all about relationships.
"At VIP, our mission is to earn an automotive customer for life," he said. "We do that by having highly trained technicians who enjoy helping people."
Aaron Telle, CEO and president of Telle Tire & Auto Centers, said his eight-store dealership has a large screen in a newly acquired store in Missouri to show customers vehicle inspection reports and review pictures of vehicle issues.
"This really helps create another level of transparency and puts confidence in both the adviser and the customer when reviewing inspections," he said.
Convenience is another aspect dealers should consider when looking to create high-level service, especially for millennials, according to Tyler Brunatti of Podium Corp. Inc. Consumers base purchasing decisions on two factors, he said. First is confidence in the product and services offered. Second is convenience. The latter includes communicating with customers in ways they prefer.
Tire dealerships may be getting bigger in size, but it's the level of service that will separate the winners from the losers.