EDGE On a roll: New owners of Coker Tire grow with acquisitions

EDGE On a roll: New owners of Coker Tire grow with acquisitions

February 1st, 2019 by Dave Flessner in EDGE

Corky Coker, left, and Wade Kawasaki

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Over six decades, Harold Coker and his son, Corky, grew what began as a small tire store in Athens, Tennessee, into the world's biggest manufacturer and supplier of collector vehicle and motorcycle tires in the world.

The new owners of the Coker Group, who bought the family-owned tire and antique wheel maker last fall, have even bigger plans for the Chattanooga-based automotive supplier.

The New York investment group Irving Place Capital, which led a management buyout of the Coker Tire from the Coker family in October, has made three company acquisitions in as many months since buying the Coker Group. The new owners are looking at other manufacturers and distributors in the automotive aftermarket that could double the size of the Coker Group in 2019.

"We're focused on continuing to have strong organic growth within our family of companies, which we have succeeded at so far," says Wade Kawasaki, Coker's president and chief executive who led the management buyout of the company. "But our big percentage gains in sales will come from acquisition growth."

Since he joined the company, Kawasaki said Coker Tire has made eight company acquisitions over the past eight years. But the company is exploring other potential purchases that could more than double its revenues in 2019.

Coker Tire Company, Inc., based in Chattanooga, is already the world's largest manufacturer and supplier of collector vehicle tires and motorcycle tires with distributors in more than 30 countries for such brands as Firestone, Michelin, U.S. Royal and BFGoodrich.

"There's a lot of opportunity, and with our new partners at Irving Place Capital, we not only have the capital to add to this structure but also the expertise in the acquisition of larger companies," Kawasaki says. "In the past, our acquisitions have been limited to companies much smaller than we are, but moving forward that would no longer be a limitation for our team."

The automotive aftermarket remains highly fragmented and Kawasaki said many suppliers are still in a two or three step distribution model. But Coker sells directly to consumers via its web site.

"We have a base here in Chattanooga and we're going to continue to augment that with other businesses," he says. "We have a great marketing, sales, HR and IT team here in Chattanooga and we're looking at how to leverage that better. We see a lot more opportunities."

Irving Place Capital Co-Managing Partner Phil Carpenter said the partnership with the Coker Group positions the company for long-term growth both domestically and internationally."

Irving Place Capital is an active investor in the consumer, industrial and packaging sectors, including the high-performance vehicle aftermarket through its ownership of Dynojet Research.

"The Coker family built a brand and a portfolio of companies that are beloved by enthusiasts around the world," Carpenter says. "By partnering with Wade and his team we will together advance that legacy well into the future."

Corky Coker, the son of the company founder, the late Harold Coker, retired from the tire business in 2014 but he will continue to own and operate the Honest Charley Speed Shop and his property management company in Chattanooga with his children.

Lillian Coker, the co-founder of the company, conceded last year it was "sad to see this part of my life come to a close" and the conclusion of a dream her husband, Harold, began in 1958.

"But as I thought about it, we all must come to a time of change and this change will be new ownership of Coker Tire," she said. "So it is my hope and prayer that those who carry Coker Tire Company into the future will be as blessed as we have been."

Last year, the new owners of Coker Group announced a strategic partnership with German tire distributor MOR (Münchner Oldtimer Reifen) GmbH. Based in Holzkirchen, Germany, MOR is a leading supplier of vintage and classic vehicle tires which has been in business for nearly 35 years. MOR and its founder and Managing Partner Valentin Schaal continue to lead the company with the existing leadership team.

Schaal founded MOR in 1983 and over the last three and a half decades has become a leader in the vintage vehicle tire and accessory market in Germany. MOR's acquisition by Coker enables further access to the growing European market of vintage tire customers.

"My vision was to reach classic car lovers all over the world, and Coker Group will allow me to spread this vision to a global level beyond the borders of Europe. I am looking forward to a great partnership," Schaal says.

In January, the Chattanooga-based Coker Group announced it has also bought PS Engineering and Vintage Wheel Works to expand Coker's vintage line of wheels and other automotive equipment.

Vintage Wheel Works offers a wide variety of high-quality cast aluminum wheels in an array of iconic styles popularized on muscle and race cars from the 1960s and '70s. Its broad size and fitment options accommodate everything from restorations and period-correct builds to larger wheels for "resto-mod" and pro-touring cars, with diameters designed to accommodate modern performance brakes and tires.

PS Engineering has offered made-in-America two-piece cast aluminum wheels for vintage racing, motorsports, muscle cars and concours restorations for decades and has been a wheel of choice in the historic racing and Cobra communities.

Coker Tire will become a distributor for both brands, offering them through its catalog and website. The Coker Group already includes Coker Tire, Wheel Vintiques, Universal Vintage Tire, Phoenix Race Tires, Specialty Wheel and Roadster Wire Wheel brands.

The newly acquired operations are located in Los Angeles, supported from the Coker Group's Chattanooga headquarters.

"Everybody is really excited about this path forward and bringing more jobs to Chattanooga," Kawasaki says.