Oak Tyres celebrates 40th anniversary
‘If we provide a better service than our competitor, great things will happen’
Oak Tyres is marking 40 years in business – and of consecutive years of “sales growth” in 2020. The independently owned company, which is a founder member of Grouptyre, says that its sustained progress is down to its service-led philosophy: “If we provide a better service than our competitor, great things will happen” – its guiding statement since its establishment in 1980. Today, Oak has become one of the largest independent tyre wholesalers in the UK. It has more than 500,000 sq ft of warehouse space across its Haydock, St Helens, Manchester, Leeds and Tyne and Wear sites. In the last decade in particular, Oak’s distribution of two successful brands from the Far East – Landsail and Evergreen, both exclusively distributed – has supported impressive market penetration for both. Since 2015, Oak has established its own global private tyre brand, Davanti, which at the last count is present in more than 60 countries.
Oak Tyres history
Oak’s senior management team today partly consists of founder Larry Cross and his sons, general manager Peter and development director Gary, a fact that illustrates the continuity of its central philosophy. Larry Cross says Oak’s focus has always been on the customer and building the business by “developing a reputation for offering better service than its competitors.” In Oak’s foundation year, 1980 the wholesale sector played a much smaller role in tyre distribution, with manufacturers dominating. Larry Cross identified an opportunity to establish a wholesale business to develop a range of brands in the UK “to increase choice and give retailers more control of their businesses.” Initially securing warehouse space in St Helens in Merseyside, by the dawn of the 1990s Oak was the biggest wholesaler in the North West. In this time of rapid expansion, the wholesaler says that it committed “never to move into the retail space.” This would, it says, give its retail customers greater security, knowing they would never face direct competition from their supplier.
Wanting to offer top products and services drove Oak to help create Grouptyre in 1995. The group was founded on the idea that independent wholesalers should work collectively to increase their influence with brands. Regional wholesalers combined their buying power to bring exclusive brands to the UK in volume and develop them.
“To meet the demand for key brands we needed to purchase in greater volumes,” said Larry Cross. “Working with other wholesalers benefited everyone and led to the creation of a multi-brand same-day UK delivery service which remains market-leading in terms of efficiency.”
Oak’s growth led to the need to find new sites and territories. Around this time Larry’s sons Peter and Gary Cross joined the business having developed their understanding of the tyre industry. In 2005 Oak expanded its senior management team to support these wider operations, with Peter Cross as general manager and Don McIntyre as sales director. In 2009 Gary Cross became development director and Andy Burgess was brought in as finance director. This expansion of head office operations was furthered by Oak’s relocation to a 15,000 sq ft complex in Newton-le-Willows, Merseyside, named Oak House.
For the first time this allowed Oak to create a central, open plan hub for a team of 100 across sales, marketing, purchasing, accounts, and operations teams. This, Oak states, has resulted in a head office that facilitates cohesive communication and the collaboration of teams.
“The philosophy never changes,” said Larry. “If we do things better than the competition, you can make great things happen. We’re transparent with our workforce about what the business needs are. That understanding enables them to do whatever is required to maintain our success.”
“Oak’s employees are empowered to make decisions,” added Gary. “We work hard on staff engagement. Business development managers can visit customers and have freedom to make decisions to help them grow their businesses.
“We also develop bespoke technical solutions in-house. With Oak Partnership, our new Stock Keeping Units (SKUs), manufacturers and brands coming into the market all the time, having our own dedicated systems for customers makes their life much easier.”
Dealing with the Covid Crisis
Peter Cross believes that a lack of bureaucracy is Oak’s greatest strength: “We have built a team with expertise, experience and skills to serve our knowledgeable customer base. In some businesses it can take years to get things done. We give employees the ability to make dynamic, informed decisions for the benefit of their customers. They have ownership of their customer relationships.
“I think that’s something that really helped us cope with the Covid-19 outbreak. We were able to maintain a vital supply line for customers who were helping to keep critical workers mobile during lockdown.
“At the same time we were implementing new measures to change the way we worked to maintain the safety of our staff without interrupting the supply chain.
“It was one of the biggest logistical challenges the business has faced, but our employees made it work by pulling together to help find solutions. The close customer relationships we have built meant any disruption the pandemic did cause was greeted with patience and we are thankful to all our customers for their understanding.”
Peter Cross adds that the complexity of providing great service has increased, with new tools needed to offer
market-leading solutions: “What we saw back in 2009 was that the manufacturing landscape was changing. There was a whole wave of manufacturing centres in China beginning to make their mark and the brands that were considered established in the market were changing.
“Now, following Covid, we are seeing the market bounce back quickly and robustly and we are already building our service levels back up to their pre-Covid levels.”
Oak introduced Evergreen Tyres to the UK in 2010, and followed it up a year later when it secured the UK distribution for Landsail Tyres. It then set about applying the brand building and marketing knowledge established over 30 years to turn them into recognisable brands. Now one in every 25 tyres now sold in the UK is a Landsail tyre, the company says.
In 2015 Oak applied this brand-building capability further, by creating its own new tyre brand. “Given everything we’d learned, it was the natural thing to do,” said Peter Cross. “Davanti gives us the flexibility to develop the sizes and patterns we want and a route into a global market. Things we couldn’t achieve with an existing brand.
“We are still fully focused on developing the brands we partner with in the UK, but now we enjoy the extra benefits of outright ownership of a brand. We can tailor our product range to the demands of the market.”
“It goes back to our central focus – our customers,” added Gary. “For 40 years we’ve delivered the service and products they need and we’ll be doing it for the next 40 too.”