Downtown Tire Center, Inc. keeps on rolling

By Pete Zamplas

Downtown Tire Center, Inc. keeps a grip on its customers, with insightful and dependable service and a smile.

Downtown Tire has been at 108 S. King St., on the edge of Downtown Hendersonville near the main courthouse, since 1979 when its structure was built. Its 33 years in business is second-longest of any tire dealer in Henderson County, owner Bobby Roland noted. He bought it in 1996, from founder Jim Hughes. Hughes, now retired, was a tire wholesaler in four states, and a retailer.

Roland has been in the tire business for 30 years, starting in tire distribution in Asheville. His jobs included as a manufacturer’s rep for Dunlop Tire and Rubber, selling its various brands. Downtown Tire is a longtime dealer in Michelin and its sister tires B.F. Goodrich and Uniroyal with its Tiger Paw patch tread grip. Bridgestone and Firestone are part of another company, while Continental and General are together, Roland noted.

Uniroyal was originally the United States Rubber Co., in 1892. It was among 12 original stocks in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, initiated in 1896. U.S. Rubber made Keds, the first sneakers. The firm became Uniroyal Inc. in 1961, merged with Goodrich in 1986 and went private the next year. Uniroyal Goodrich’s sale to the Michelin Group of France, in 1990, formed the world’s largest tire company. Michelin North America has three facilities nearby, in Upstate, S.C.

Downtown Tire also carries Korean brands Kumho and Nexen and the Japanese Yokohama. The store manager for six years, Nelson Hernandez, said he and his wife are very pleased with Nexen tires on their vehicles. He said various tire brands are generally “equally as good as another” in quality. Roland estimated he has about 1,000 new tires in stock. He also sells various used tires, including outdated and hard-to-find sizes.

Roland is proud to be a tire dealer, in an era in which rivals have emerged from big chain stores and others. He estimated that in the last 30 years, tire sellers have risen from a half-dozen stores to six times that many now in Henderson County. “We’re tire specialists. That’s harder to find,” Roland said. “Now, the car dealers, muffler shops and ‘big box’ stores all sell tires.” He noted how patronizing locally-owned businesses “sustains the local economy.”

His edge as a tire specialist is “we offer experience and expertise.” He enjoys the business. “I like providing a service, and selling a product everybody needs. We match tires to the customer’s (car handling) needs, and their pocketbooks. I think we do a good job of that.”

His clientele includes owners of premium cars who are selective about their service, and seek custom work such as on wheels. “If it’s an especially nice car, it ends up here” when worked on, he said. His services include computerized wheel alignment, shocks and struts, resurfacing brake rotors, and free computerized balance and rotation every 5,000 miles with purchase of new tires.

Roland handles outside commercial sales, supplies and deliveries such as to AT&T in Asheville. He is ever-energetic and smiling in his shop. “Bobby is great to work for,” Hernandez said. “He has a good sense of humor. He’s family-oriented. He is very understanding, when we need a couple hours off to take care of family issues.”

Roland, 53, played football for T.C. Roberson High, and rugby at Appalachian State. He and his wife of 30 years, Leslie, have two grown children. Ashley is a recent Dartmouth graduate. Robert Jr. is at UNC-Asheville, and works summers in the tire shop.

Over the last three decades “what has changed most is the tires are much more complex,” Roland said. “They deliver better grip and performance, with longer wear and much better fuel efficiency. And they keep getting bigger. “ A common diameter of wheel rims was 14 or 15 inches, and now is 17 inches. “The sidewall height keeps getting shorter, which makes the tires handle better.”

A more recent trend is inflating tires with nitrogen, rather than oxygen. The two can be mixed, if the blend is similar in tires on both sides. Oxygen expands with heat and can affect the tire pressure, unlike nitrogen. Thus adding a spare that is filled with only natural air to a vehicle with three nitrogen-filled tires would throw off the balance.

“I recommend nitrogen,” Roland said. “It’s used in airplane tires, and the racing industry. It’s ideal for severe weather conditions even in the Arctic and desert, because it doesn’t fluctuate along with extreme heat or cold. It gives a consistent pressure. That results in improved mileage, and longer tire life.”

Downtown Tire is open 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on weekdays, and 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. Call 693-1676 for further information.

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