Sunday, November 10, 2002

Sumerel service adds to revenue

22-store chain finds future not just selling tires

By Randy Tucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Service is where the rubber hits the road at Erlanger-based Bob Sumerel Tire Co.

The family-run, 22-store chain doesn't just sell tires.

It offers a wide range of maintenance services - from radiator flushes to oil changes - that CEO Bob Sumerel calls the key to the company's growth over the past several years and its No. 58 ranking on the Greater Cincinnati 100.

"Service is, to me, where the future is,'' said Mr. Sumerel, 61, who started the company 32 years ago. "Hopefully, if we get a customer in, and we take good care of them, they'll come back with their family and friends.''

That philosophy extends beyond the retail stores to the company's growing business servicing commercial truck fleets.

Retreading used truck tires is the biggest part of the commercial business, which accounts for about 60 percent of overall sales, said Mr. Sumerel, who declined to release figures.

The company retreads about 17,000 truck tires a month at five different plants throughout the region and is a franchisee of Muscatine, Iowa-based Bandag Inc., which controls about half of the retread tire business for commercial and industrial customers.

But just like the retail side of the business, tires are only part of the picture when it comes to servicing trucks.

"We do everything,'' said Todd Sumerel, 33, Bob's eldest son and president of the commercial tire division. "We put tires on trucks on the road, fix flats, even get rid of the scrap.''

Similarly, the retail business has expanded from offering free tire rotation and balancing every 6,000 miles with tire purchases to competitively priced air conditioning, brake, battery, shock and strut services, among others.

Offering such services has not only increased revenues, it has reduced the number of stops Bob Sumerel's customers must make, which generates repeat business.

"We're doing a lot more preventive maintenance than what we did even five or six years ago,'' said Craig Sumerel, 36, Todd's brother and president of the retail division. "It gives us a chance to work with the vehicle owner over a long period of time.''

Because of Bob Sumerel's long-term relationship with many of its customers, the company doesn't rely on TV advertising as heavily as some of its competitors, the Sumerels said.

Billboards, radio and direct mail are the company's main advertising vehicles.

The company has experimented with TV, including running its longtime tag line - "Bob Sumerel really cares'' - at the end of TV commercials for the tire brands it carries, including Bridgestone, Cooper, Toyo and Michelin.

But the company doesn't have to spend money on expensive TV spots to get the word out, the owners say, because they show they "really care" in the way they run the business on a daily basis.

And business is booming.

While a down economy has led many regional enterprises to lay off workers, Bob Sumerel has added employees over the past several months, bringing the total to 425.

The continued economic malaise that has retailers across the board biting their nails has even benefited Bob Sumerel by leading many of its customers to keep their cars longer and buy tires more often. That goes for its truck customers as well.

"Our business is normally good,'' the patriarch of the family business said. "But in a downturn economy, I think we're doing even better.''


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