Despite being unsuccessful in his bid to regain the Tirecraft name (now owned by Kirk’s Tire and Trail Tire), David Cosco, along with President Darrell Sept, have wasted no time in blazing a new trail for Integra Tire & Auto Centres, which already has 55 stores in the resurrected group that consists of many former longtime associates.
After Tirecraft was sold three years ago, without the skills of the management team who had guided it to pre-eminence since 1978, it took surprisingly little time for the group’s fortunes to change, culminating in last spring’s bankruptcy.
That most difficult, recent experience accounts in great part for the enthusiasm that is helping the new brand to come together, says Sept.
“The motivation flows from the many long standing relationships enjoyed between the collection of people on the program at Integra today.”
Sept says the new group’s desire to rebuild with confidence is palpable.
“These business owners wanted to be on the team and to reconnect with stores they worked with in the past, with people they knew and trusted, and had the experience in running this type of program.”
“That, really, in the end, is what bore out with most of these guys: to have faith in the people they were going to commit their businesses to, and to be able to experience that trust and confidence again.”
Sept says they had been working on implementing the new program since the demise of Tirecraft Group Incorporated.
“We were ready to go once we knew what the outcome of the name was, says Sept.
“We were somewhat surprised that we didn’t get it but that was the only thing that caught us off guard.”
How did that change their plans?
Sept says had they been able to acquire the Tirecraft name the new company would have gone national because the brand already had a national footprint.
“However,” he says, “when we didn’t get the name we felt it was in our best interest to stay regional. It’s a little easier to manage because it is a new undertaking; and at this point, starting a new brand, it makes sense to maintain it in western Canada.”
With 30 years experience behind them, the ‘newcomers’ understood there was still a keen appetite for the kind of program they had built in the past, and an excellent opportunity to rebuild.
With a score of applications pending in addition to the number of stores already joined, Sept says there is no real ‘magic number’ to grow to. What’s necessary is a minimum number that guarantees good coverage in all four western provinces.
While not getting the name was a surprise, the group had one big advantage. “We had a new name in our back pocket,” says Sept. “And it was right from the heart.
“One of our employees and his wife came up with the name. ‘Integra’ reflects the values of the company and how the ownership has conducted itself. Integrity is first and foremost, right up front.”
Ultimately, however, it’s not only about the name but about the strength of the program, which is built on relationships between the management group and the dealers themselves not to mention relationships with suppliers.
“What we have found out is that it’s not as much about the name itself but more about as who owns the name,” says Sept.
“Our dealers we treat like family and we want to be involved with them and help them to be more successful.”
That kind of forward-thinking, community-building is confirmed by Randy Miedema, who with his brother Al Miedema owns Integra Tire, Kelowna.
Randy says when the previous owners of Tirecraft took over from the Coscos the change in style was unmistakable.
“It wasn’t a family any more. Every month it got worse and then we found out they were going into receivership. It was devastating.”
Elated to discover that the original owner was going ahead with a new franchise, the Kelowna dealer said he was there ‘in a heartbeat.’
“There was no doubt in my mind that I’d jump on board,” says Miedema. “We signed up immediately.”
Response on the street has also been positive.
“We got our sign up as fast as possible, as people were confused. Now we are very definitely Integra Tire and I’m explaining the situation 20 or 30 times a day.”
Customers understand it’s for the better, he says, but at the end of the day they reassurance that when they’re on the road somewhere and need help, they’re going to be looked after.
In addition to the growing number of affiliate independents across the west, Integra operates five corporate stores, with 45 employees, with operations at Dawson Creek, Hinton, Morinville, Ponoka and Swift Current, and partners with the Usenik family in Vermillion.
Sept has no illusions concerning the economic turmoil now in play but he’s not deterred.
“The Oil Patch is starting to slow down with the price of oil now basically what it was 16 months ago,” he says.
“However the velocity of the economy in Alberta has been running at such fever pitch the net result may be some kind of normality, with the economy returning to a more manageable level.
He adds that people are still in short supply, oil field companies are still advertising daily to get people on board, and the retail level is still ‘moving quite well.’
Labour is a challenge, says Sept, because the oil industry pays quite a premium for people and certainly drives up labour costs when people are in such short supply.
However, he cautions, “We haven’t really seen the fallout from a lower barrel of oil at this point.
“From our own corporate store perspective, we are always nimble enough to adapt to the pace of the economy be it up or down,” says Sept.
“Our own stores are hand picked for being good performers historically, for their strong management in those locations, through that will help us weather any economic downtown.
"If it’s a good business, the clientele will still be there in slower times. We’re set up pretty well to insulate ourselves.”
Boom times or slow times, Sept is keeping busy these days responding to requests from the growing number of dealers looking to get back on board with the new Integra brand.
In Randy Miedema’s mind, beyond delivering service for his clientele and rekindling faith in the business, it’s also a question of rebuilding his own stock.
“For my company, it would have been devastating if I had had to sell last year.
"Now I want to build the value back up, so 10 or 15 years from now I can once again see the prospect of a decent retirement and Integra will have been built up to where it was before and have real value in the assets.”
And Miedema is not alone at press time, the number of Integra branches signed on was 55 and counting.
“These guys have such integrity. It just matches the name they chose,” says Miedema.
“They’re honourable people. They do what they say and they say what they do.” (Tire Review/Akron)