Tire dealers are celebrities in their own right. Bruce Halle or Jim Berlin are as prominent in the tire business as Clint Eastwood or Harrison Ford in the entertainment field.
For every Roy Rogers or Gene Autry there's a Les Schwab.
Some, like Larry Morgan, are soft-spoken, everyman types in the Jimmy Stewart mold.
Others, like Bill Gaither or Tom Gegax, can be a bit animated, like Jim Carrey. Gegax runs Tires Plus Groupe Ltd. not as president or CEO but as "head coach."
All of these personalities, and more, have earned their places in Modern Tire Dealer's Top 50 Independent Tire Store Chains in North America list, based on number of retail, commercial and wholesale outlets.
At the very top, for the third consecutive year, is Penske Auto Center Inc.
The 786 store group, based in Troy, Mich., was formerly owned by Kmart Corp.
It is more than 400 outlets ahead of second-place Discount Tire Co. Inc. of Scottsdale, Ariz.
But the number of Penske outlets has dropped in the last year while Discount Tire has added 39 stores.
J.H. Heafner Co. Inc. remained in third place.
However, the Lincolnton, N.C., dealer added more than 70 outlets earlier this year when it merged with Competitive Parts Warehouse, a California performance tire, custom wheel and parts distributor, and ITCO Logistics Corp., perhaps the largest distributor of tires and related products in the Southeast.
Les Schwab Tires remains in fourth place with 198 retail stores.
The Prineville-Ore.-based company added new stores in …