Barry Steinberg & Craig Sumerel, Direct Tire and Auto Service
Five years ago Barry Steinberg, 59, and Craig Sumerel, 38, both successful tire retailers, ran into each other in the lobby at Pirelli. They traded war stories, griped a bit, and realized that they had so much in common that they ought to talk more regularly. That chance encounter has grown into the National Retail Tire Network, a 12-member peer group that meets for two days three times a year. "We have 275 locations, sell 3 million tires a year, employ 5,000 people, and have revenue of $500 million," says Steinberg (above right). Some manufacturers have offered the group a bulk discount, and the Tire Industry Association's PAC coordinator spoke at a recent meeting after a presentation on a new trend: filling tires with nitrogen instead of air. Group members, who hail from far-flung markets, could never command as much attention on their own. Besides the recognition, members gladly pay $1,200 in annual dues to be less isolated. "I can call up a competitor down the street, but we're guarded with one another," Steinberg says. In the peer group, everything's out in the open, even financials.