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The typical Tire Discounters includes eight bays and employs a staff of 10 to 12 employees.

One of the nation's fastest growing independent tire retailers is entering the Chattanooga market as part of a southbound expansion that could soon make it the No. 1 tire retailer in Chattanooga.

Tire Discounters, a Cincinnati-based chain of tire stores owned by founder Chip Wood, plans to build eight tire and automotive retail stores in the Chattanooga region, supported within a couple of years by a distribution facility the company is also looking to build in the Chattanooga area to serve its growing business in the South.

Four of the new stores, including outlets in Hixson, Brainerd and Fort Oglethorpe, should open this fall. The company also is negotiating for at least another couple of store sites in the region, including Cleveland, Tenn.

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About Tire Discounters

Headquarters: Cincinnati, Ohio

Founded: 1976 by Chip Wood as a single, one-bay store

No. of stores: 100 open or under construction

Chattanooga plans: Up to eight retail stores and distribution center

Industry ranking: 9th largest independent tire and automotive retailer

Staff: More than 1,100 employees in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee

Distinctive claim: Free alignment with tire purchase and lifetime balancing and tire rotation

"We see Chattanooga as an underserved market and, based upon the success we have had in Nashville in the past year and the growth in Chattanooga, we think this will be a strong market for us," Paul Brunner, CEO for Tire Discounters, said Wednesday. "We'd love to have eight or nine locations in the Chattanooga market. But our focus is not on just trying to be the biggest. We want to make sure we get the right people and build our business on customer service."

Since Wood started with a single-bay, rented tire shop in Cincinnati in 1976, Tire Discounters has grown to include 100 stores either open or under construction across four states. With Wood's success, he bought a second home on Lake Chickamauga and is looking at local sites for another full-service distribution center to warehouse and distribute tires to individual stores.

"Chip has long been interested in Chattanooga, but it's taken us a while to work our way down south that far," Brunner said. "We had to stop in Nashville first."

Tire Discounters has opened seven locations in the Nashville area since entering that market last year and Brunner expects to open at least 13 more outlets in Middle Tennessee.

Brunner said the company is not necessarily the lowest cost retailer of tires but it has gained customer loyalty with its offer for a free alignment, along with a lifetime rotation and balancing of any tires, when you buy them at a Tire Discounter store.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration estimates more than 70 percent of vehicles in the road are out of proper alignment, increasing the wear and shortening the life of most tires.

"You might get tires cheaper elsewhere, but if they wear out sooner because your car in not in the right alignment, then it ends up costing your more," Brunner said. "Once consumers understand that, they keep coming back."

Abbey Dryden, marketing director, said the company promotes its free alignments as a key feature in buying tires.

"Everybody loves a free alignment because it is such a great value," she said. "It's not about getting tires as cheap and as fast as you can. It's about making sure your tires are right and balanced and your car is properly aligned to ensure the most value out of your tire purchase."

The typical Tire Discounters store has eight bays, staffed by 10 to 12 employees. Brunner said as "a family owned and family friendly company," the stores close at 7 p.m. on weeknights, at 4 p.m. on Saturday and are not open on Sunday.

But because of its customer service and offer of free rotation and balancing of tires, more than 70 percent of the customers return to the store for additional automotive work or to buy other tires, Brunner said.

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The typical Tire Discounters includes eight bays and employs a staff of 10 to 12 employees.

Although a majority of the company's sales come from tires, Tire Discounters also offer automotive services with ASE-certified technicians providing brake service, oil changes, maintenance, shock replacements and alignments. The store does not perform transmission or major engine overhauls.

In Chattanooga, new stores at 5681 Highway 153 and at 6242 Lee Highway are being built by Turner Construction Co. of Brentwood, Tenn., for $1.5 million each.

Tire discounters doesn't wholesale to other retailers, but it does purchase directly from 15 different tire manufacturers and distributes those tires from its warehouses to its stores. The company opened a leased facility in distribution in Murfreesboro last year, but Brunner said he hopes to eventually develop a more permanent distribution center in the Chattanooga region.

"As a lot of other people have discovered, Chattanooga is a really good distribution site so I would hope in the next two to three years to open a distribution center somewhere in the area," he said.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340.

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