History | Coker Tire Chattanooga
Introduction to Coker Tire
Harold Coker started the Coker Tire Company in 1958. Harold’s first hand knowledge of the old car hobby, and his own struggle to find the correct tires for vintage cars led him to the concept of producing and selling era-specific tires for classic cars. It may have been a gamble, but gut instinct took over and Harold set out to make an attempt at the vintage tire trade, which was in its infancy. At the time, the old car hobby was very different, and no one had a firm grasp on the future of the industry, or if it would be a profitable market.
During the early years, Coker Tire sold vintage tires out of a 500 square foot area in the back of the retail center, while the main business came from walk-in customers wanting tires for their everyday drivers. It was a challenge to determine how to produce tires that were no longer being manufactured, and which sizes and styles would be most popular.
To overcome the challenge of producing brand new tire designs, Coker Tire purchased discontinued molds from old factories and refurbished them to modern standards. Molds were sourced from South America, the Philippines and Australia. When original molds cannot be sourced, Coker Tire has new molds built from original drawings and blueprints.
Coker Tire brokered deals with major tire manufacturers and negotiated worldwide licensing agreements and exclusive distributorships to big-name vintage brands. These brands included B.F. Goodrich, Firestone, Michelin and U.S. Royal thus increasing the variety of products available from Coker Tire.
To expand its customer base in an industry with no recognized method of distribution, Coker Tire initially went to customers by way of car shows and swap meets—a couple of employees would load a small van with tires and set up at car shows across the country. Larger trucks took the place of the van and show travel became the mainstay of Coker Tire’s commitment to its customers. Today, Coker Tire attends more than 40 shows a year utilizing a fleet of tractor-trailers. In 2018, Coker Tire became the Exclusive Tire and Wheel Sponsor for Mecum Auctions, and attends all 15 events each year. In addition to the show presence, Coker Tire offers worldwide distribution through numerous vendors, as well as online sales through the Coker Tire website.
Now, after four decades, the antique tire division consumes over 200,000 square feet of warehouse space alone. The company now occupies several buildings in the historic Southside district of downtown Chattanooga and there’s a 100,000 square foot Coker Tire store and warehouse located in City of Industry, California as well.
Coker Tire's antique tire division started with one employee in 1974 and today has grown to more than 80. Full-time managers now oversee the Exports, Marketing, Customer Service, Sales, Distribution and Accounting Departments. Founder of Coker Tire Company, and well-known Chattanooga businessman, Harold Coker passed away in November 2014, shortly after earning a well-deserved spot in the Tire Industry Association Hall of Fame. The impact he left on his business, his friends and his family will not be forgotten.
That same year, Wade Kawasaki was appointed President and later CEO of Coker Tire to oversee the operations of the growing company. In 2018, Irving Place Capital purchased Coker Tire to ensure the collector car enthusiasts would continue to receive the great products and service they have come to expect.