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Belle Tire’s Don Barnes III Reflects on 100th Anniversary, Expansion into Chicago

Belle Tire anniversary Chicago expansion Don Barnes

This year, Belle Tire marks 100 years in business as it continues its expansion into the Chicagoland area– to the tune of opening 20 stores per year for the next three years. According to Don Barnes III, president of the burgeoning tire retailer headquartered in Allen Park, Michigan, Belle Tire’s future is expansive, but the business’s biggest challenge lies in keeping true to its roots.

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“We want to make sure we stay true to ourselves and our values,” Barnes told Tire Review in an interview earlier this year. “As we continue to get bigger and bigger, we must keep doing the right thing, empower our people and keep that entrepreneurial spirit ingrained in us whether we have 200 or 1,000 stores.”

Just this year, the company began its second round of a more than $300 million investment in the Chicagoland area. Seven Belle Tire stores are currently open with another 54 ground-up constructions on the way in the next two and a half to three years. The goal is to have 60 stores in Greater Chicago that will create upwards of 1,000 jobs.

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“We see the Chicagoland market as fragmented with no clear dominant market leader to provide one-stop service like Belle can,” Barnes says. “There’s already strong brand recognition for the Belle Tire name through decades of advertisement with so many transplants from nearby markets that live in Chicago.”

Looking Back

Barnes III is a third-generation tire dealer. His father, Don Barnes, Sr. went into the tire business in the 1960s when he partnered with Sam Waze, who originally founded Belle Tire in 1922. Sam named the business after his wife, Belle.

Around 1984, the Barnes family bought Waze’s shares and continued to expand through acquisitions of American Tire, Delta Tire, Great Lakes Tire and Elkin Tire followed by the acquisition of Tireman and Metro 25 in the 1990s, according to Belle Tire’s website. By 1997, the business had 45 locations and 650 employees in Michigan.

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Over the years, the company has expanded throughout Michigan and into Ohio and Indiana. As it continues its westward expansion into greater Chicago, it looks to create opportunities for advancement for employees and give back to those that have helped the business grow.

“We take our teams’ careers very seriously,” Barnes says. “We know that we need to continue to invest in them to create future leaders from within. People are our greatest asset. The reason we’re able to continue to expand is thanks to the amazing folks that work for us.”

Belle Tire Chicago Expansion

What’s Changed, What’s Stayed the Same

Barnes admits that since his days as a 17 year old working as a tire technician for the company, the tire industry has become more complex.

“Being a store manager at Belle Tire today is way tougher than 50 years ago,” he says. “There’s way more to do and manage.”

Barnes notes that SKU proliferation of tires and auto parts has made the business more complicated. Today, Belle Tire uses “a ton of data” and a market-by-market store approach to determine what works best in each market and which products are A movers.

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What hasn’t changed, Barnes says, is how he and the executive team think about the communities that Belle Tire serves and the families it employs.

“We look at our customers as neighbors,” Barnes says. “Our job is to get our neighbors back on the road fast and affordably. Why we do what we do remains the same.

“We’re a people-centric and customer-centric organization,” Barnes continues. “That’s been at the core of Belle Tire for the last 100 years and will be for the next 100. It is exciting to be able to celebrate 100 years, but I don’t look at it that way. We’re just excited to be a part of something bigger than us. We have around 2,500 employees, and it’s their families and the thousands of families that worked for our company before that we need to thank to get to this point. What’s exciting is how we can continue to grow and make this bigger than just us.”

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Charting out the Future

Today, Belle Tire has 130 stores and counting. As the company grows, Barnes says it will always focus on the bottom line and its people first. However, one area of significant growth that Barnes sees for Belle Tire and the industry as a whole is electric vehicle service.

“That will mean retrofitting stores and offering charging for EVs, so when they’re having work done in the shop, we can extend their range,” he says. “That’s an investment we’re looking to make in the growth of EVs. We’re exploring options for service, one of them being providing charging stations at our stores.”

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While Belle Tire locations prepare to adapt to mobility trends, Barnes’s eye is always on the where the Tireman logo will appear next.

“We’ll always look to move to markets in line with our existing footprint,” he says. “A lot of opportunities exist throughout the middle of Ohio and southern Illinois and Indiana. We just have to analyze opportunities right now and continue to figure out what’s best for us.”

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