The bone-chilling cold that is Red Wing, Minn., in mid-January could do little to cool down the warm-fest as K&M Tire gathered its marketing group dealers for their first program meeting.
It was not the first time the Mr. Tire dealers had gathered; the meetings were an annual occurrence when the program was run by Universal Cooperatives’ Triton Tire & Battery division. But Delphos, Ohio-based K&M Tire bought Triton Tire last November, gaining five Midwestern warehouses, a larger distribution footprint, a big chunk of agricultural tire business, and 125 dealers hungry to improve the retail program.
K&M Tire started life in 1970 as a two-bay gas station. With the Triton acquisition, K&M is now a $200 million wholesaler servicing thousands of customers over 15 states stretching from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. It is still a family owned and managed business, but it has sharp designs on growing.
Last year K&M Tire became an American Car Care Center member distributor, and signed on as a member distributor of ACCC’s new EcoExpress marketing group.
The five warehouses K&M Tire picked up in the Triton Tire deal Eagan, Minn.; Bismarck, N.D.; Omaha, Neb.; Wichita, Kan.; and Jacksonville, Ark. joined existing distribution centers in Bolingbrook, Ill.; Lincoln Park, Mich.; Grandville, Mich.; Toledo, Ohio; DeForest, Wis.; and Delphos, Ohio.
Some of the recently acquired warehouses, explained K&M officials, will likely be closed in favor of newer and larger distribution centers in or near those cities. That is all part of K&M Tire’s growth plan, which includes expanding its Mr. Tire marketing group program.
According to K&M Tire management, they want to expand the Mr. Tire program by another 200 dealers over the next 12 to 18 months and more beyond that. Some of that will come from current customers, and some will come from potential expansion of K&M’s distribution footprint; Triton Tire came with a customer base of about 2,000 customers, most of which are outside of the Mr. Tire program.
The annual Mr. Tire meeting, held at the Treasure Island Resort & Casino in Red Wing, gave K&M management including founder and president Ken Langhals the opportunity to meet with nearly all of the Mr. Tire dealers first-hand, and to present their plans for the marketing group program. In all, some 100 Mr. Tire dealers attended.
The meeting also included a well-attended trade show, featuring booths by Hankook, Continental, Carlisle, Cooper, Titan, API, BKT, Mitas, Exide, Tech, Esco, Fleetguard and more. And it was quite obviously and, in this day and age, quite unusually a buying show. Dealers sat at well-placed tables on the show floor, huddled over price sheets and calculators as they worked out their orders for the next three to 12 months.
Mike Perkins of K&M heads up the Mr. Tire program and he presented the changes planned for the marketing group. He comes with a track record of success with dealer groups, having worked on Bridgestone Americas’ successful TireStarz and Affiliated Dealer programs.
“We need to breathe some new life into Mr. Tire,” said Perkins, who was not besmirching what had come before, but acknowledging what the dealers already knew: the program had been neglected. “Not a lot has been put towards it. The changes were necessary.”
The changes, though, were not made in a vacuum. They were the result of meetings with program dealers, who offered their input on every aspect of Mr. Tire.
Since it was founded in 1967, Mr. Tire had been a pretty successful store brand in the Midwest, but it had fallen into disrepair. So the first thing the K&M team looked at was a new logo. Borrowing elements from the original mark as well as the current look, the new Mr. Tire logo retains the familiar red/black color scheme while bringing greater strength to the name.
The new Mr. Tire mark was developed to work in rectangular and square configurations, making it easier for dealers to convert their Mr. Tire signage to the new look. Perkins said the company has a program to help dealers swap out their current Mr. Tire signs for new ones.
Building sales and new business for the dealers and K&M meant adding more tire brands to the mix. Perkins said dealers wanted more brands and more choices to allow them to be stronger competitors in their markets. “Brands are critical for growth your growth and ours,” said Perkins.
Goodyear, Dunlop, Kelly, Continental, General, Cooper, Dean and Hankook joined a passenger, light truck and medium truck line-up that already included Michelin, BFGoodrich, Uniroyal, Bridgestone and Firestone, among others. Perkins said K&M is working to add even more brands to the mix.
Because many Mr. Tire dealers are in the heartland and have a lot of ag tire accounts, K&M Tire has built supply contracts with Mitas, Carlisle, Titan, BKT, and is working to bring Firestone ag tires to the mix.
Also new to Mr. Tire dealers are branded nationwide road hazard and vehicle service warranties, great potential sales and profit sources for dealers. And K&M plans to leverage its tire brands for co-op ad dollars for Mr. Tire-branded consumer ads and group advertising. All new Mr. Tire and tire brand oriented POS materials also are on the schedule.
With an all-new Mr. Tire website coming, member dealers will also be able to create their own customized Mr. Tire-branded website, Perkins explained. Working with their K&M sales manager, dealers can select from a number of templates and site features, including a quasi-e-commerce function that will allow dealers to sell tires online direct to consumers without an online money transaction. At some point in the future, Perkins said, a true transaction system may be added.
With all of the changes, what stays the same for Mr. Tire dealers? According to Perkins, all of the key elements that dealers want: the people (K&M retained all of the Triton employees), the places (the Triton warehouses plus the existing K&M centers), and the brand portfolio (fortified with the addition of more tire brands). Plus, a revamped delivery system so that all Mr. Tire dealers are getting product deliveries at least once a day. “K&M is very good at distribution and on-time delivery is a big part of that,” Perkins told the dealers.
K&M grandfathered in all of the current Mr. Tire dealers into the new program under the same rates as 2010. And by and large, the dealers were pleased by what they heard from the K&M team.
But as one dealer reminded, announcing improvements and changes is great, but it is all about execution. The K&M staff says they are up to the task.