On a scale of 1 to 10, what grade would you give commercial tire makers for the sales and service support they provide your dealership?
Modern Tire Dealer asked that question of commercial tire dealers in a 2015 survey. The result: a middle-of-the-road score of 6.67. (A “1” was very poor, and a 10 was “exceptionally good.”) Dealers with a single store were slightly less impressed with the support than those who operated multiple facilities.
The results showed an opportunity for tire manufacturers to improve, so we took the scores back to them and asked what they’re doing to raise the bar. Here’s what they told us.
John Hull, national truck tire sales manager for Alliance Tire Americas Inc.: For years, Alliance Tire Americas has been the sole U.S. marketing representative of Aeolus truck tires. This year, we added a new truck tire brand, Constellation, which provides dealers with a great line of truck tires at a very competitive price point.
We’re providing choices to our dealers. That’s not only a choice in truck tire brands and positioning, but also the thousands of choices represented by our Alliance, Galaxy and Primex off-the-road tires. Only one of our customers buys just truck tires from us — all the rest sell into the farm, forestry, construction, mining and other OTR markets with at least some of our other brands.
We’re also very flexible. We’re a global company, but we’re flexible enough to sit down with customers to find out what they need. If it’s a program, or a particular size or pattern, we can work with them to make it happen.
We are working hard to contribute to the success of our customers’ businesses. We want them to be able to meet the wide range of needs their customers have, and we want to make sure they can make a good margin selling our tires.
Bryant Davis, vice president of sales for truck, bus and retreads at Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations LLC: We truly believe we have the best dealer network in the industry at Bridgestone, and we are committed to providing products, tools and technologies that will empower our dealers to anticipate and meet the needs of their customer base. Delivering great products will always be important, but we also know that today’s fleet customers are sophisticated. They want actionable information they can use to improve tire performance and drive down costs over time. This is why we are laser-focused on developing solutions that wrap around our best-in-class product portfolio. Solutions like our BASys Fleet Inventory and BASys Fleet Analyzer 2.0 are great examples of how we help dealers work with their fleet customers to refine and optimize their tire program.
We also believe in keeping the lines of communication open with our dealers, and they have told us they want more face time with our sales force. Just this year, we realigned our in-market territories to ensure that our team is on the ground and meeting with dealers on a consistent basis.
In addition, we continue to invest in dealer training programs to ensure we position our customers to win. The Bridgestone training and development team leverages a variety of on-site and on-demand learning opportunities to ensure our dealers are armed with all of the knowledge needed to serve their customers and close sales.
Last, but certainly not least, we know that Bandag and our retreading program is one of the best assets we have at Bridgestone. As a result, we are investing heavily in Bandag to reinvigorate the retread category. We rolled out a new Bandag logo and unveiled our Bandag Built for Better campaign aimed at amplifying and increasing awareness of the many benefits of retreading. Retreading is a great way for dealers to boost customer loyalty and drive more sales with their customers over time.
Walt Weller, senior vice president of China Manufacturers Alliance LLC (CMA): I believe our individual scores would be significantly higher than this number. Having said that, we do not take this issue lightly and continue to strive to be a reliable supplier that employs highly skilled, experienced, and knowledgeable field people, who offers competitive programs and pricing that allow Double Coin dealers to make superior margins. We provide a product that the dealer and their salespeople can have confidence in whether it is the new tire performance or the casing for retreading.
Gary Schroeder, director of truck and bus tire business for Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.: Supporting our dealers is, and always has been, a top priority for Cooper. We focus on a number of attributes including product quality and technology, product line offering, adjustment policy, fill rate and technical support in order to provide a high level of service to our dealers. In addition, we spend time listening to our dealers to truly understand their goals, thus helping us be more efficient in prioritizing our support offerings.
Jeff Henessee, commercial sales manager for Kumho Tire USA Inc.: We continue to cultivate our dealer relationships and support their sales teams through consistent sales and product training programs and we develop promotional initiatives to effectively grow the business.Bill Jepsen, commercial tire sales manager for Kumho: We continue to enhance the service we provide for our customers and their sales staff through a “solution-based” approach in a highly collaborative fashion. We need to demonstrate our commitment to building their business by being inventive in helping our customers address and resolve current business challenges by creating value-driven programs and promotions. We consistently engage with all levels of our customers from corporate to field sales personnel at the store locations. Of course, sales training is an ongoing process as we develop and introduce new truck, bus and radial (TBR) products and clients hire new people.
Brad Beall, distribution development director for Michelin North America Inc.: We are intensely focused on enhancing the customer experience — with large and small fleets and dealers alike. We recognize our reliance on our independent dealer network to enable us to serve our mutual fleet customers. Understanding their business better and identifying ways to execute our shared objectives is key to improving the support we provide our dealers.
Adam Murphy, vice president of marketing for Michelin: First and foremost, we have made significant investments to improve our ability to supply our customers, not just for today, but in a sustainable way and in a variety of market conditions. Second, we are making massive investments in our IT systems to continue to improve our ability to connect with our customers (fleets and dealers) and become the easiest partner with whom they do business. We believe with these investments, along with the already recognized quality of our products and services, we will continue to improve their experience with us and earn a greater share of their business.
Marcus Hancock, vice president of technology for Omni United (S) Pte. Ltd.: We have addressed this in three ways: First, we recognized that there was a need to improve distribution of tires as well as supply. So, just over a year ago we purchased Interstate Tire Distributor Inc. , followed by A to Z Tire & Battery Inc. and created our own distribution company — Omnisource. This allows us to supply our customers with all of their requirements, including our own brand, Radar.
Secondly, we also recognized that we needed to shorten the lead time from order to delivery. We now have our own warehouses in various locations in the U.S. to service our dealers and customers in a timely manner.
Finally, we have started offering road hazard warranties and mileage warranties on many of our Radar products. This gives our dealers peace of mind that we are confident in the high quality of the products that we design, develop and manufacture.
Bill Dashiel, senior vice president of the Commercial Tire Division at TBC Corp.: TBC Brands LLC has added additional sales personnel and a sales engineer this past year to concentrate on supporting our TBR customers and to improve our overall service level. This has allowed us to ensure that our customers are better aware of the wide variety of products and brands we offer that can help them support their business and expand on market opportunities. In addition, we have improved our marketing resources and significantly enhanced advertising for our Sumitomo and Sailun TBR programs, support that is directed to help our distributors in business-to-business relationships, and to drive more awareness and interest from end users in these tire brands.
Mike Graber, senior manager of product planning and technical services for Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp.: We have added sales staff to our commercial side of the business, doubling the number of field sales personnel since 2015. The dealers consistently tell us the best way to support them is to be visible at the dealership, riding with their salespeople, visiting fleets. We have also tried to make ourselves easy to work with by developing simple programs designed to help the dealer sell more tires.
Rick Phillips, vice president of sales for Triangle Tire USA: Triangle Tire USA was formed about a year ago. The focus then, and still today, is on the dealers and distributors who will deliver our product to the market. Being a relatively new company, the first step for us is to build a quality distribution network. We are currently talking with the best dealers in the industry and trying to discern exactly what they need from their suppliers. Every dealer goes to market a little bit differently, so having a good understanding of what’s important to them is imperative in order to help them be successful. The most important thing we can do right now is listen to what the dealers tell us and respond accordingly.
Tom Clauer, manager of commercial and OTR product planning for Yokohama Tire Corp.: We like to think we rate higher than “middle-of-the-road” when it comes to supporting our dealers, and at least anecdotally, several of our dealers tell us that we are their best supplier. This stems from our willingness to listen to our dealers and act upon mutual best interests. We actively solicit dealer feedback when it comes to new product development and respect the dealer’s position on the front line of the transaction. Internally, we are focused on training our field personnel to be the best at what they do and attempt to arm them with enough market and product knowledge to be a valuable asset to our customers.
Richard Li, marketing director for Zhongce Rubber Group Co. Ltd. (ZC Rubber): ZC Rubber set up the subsidiary in Walnut, Calif., in order to provide certain technical support, especially the fleet road test, tire performance evaluation and other services. Meanwhile, we are considering introducing ZC Retread technology to the North America market so that the distributors may have more profit from both new tires and retreads. Compared to other suppliers, we admit that we are just starting the support, but we will try our best to catch them.MTD asked these same manufacturers to identify what tire dealers most often identify as their top need, and how they deliver it. (Note: Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. packaged its response to both of our questions in a single response, listed below.)
Hull, Alliance: I hear from dealers a lot that they don’t like when manufacturers compete with them or force them to run their business a certain way.
Our bonus programs are voluntary. We’ve opened more warehouses and set up systems that make it easier than ever to order tires and track shipments. We’ve got good warranties and a customer service team to back them up.
And we’re very deliberate about not signing up multiple dealers in the same market. We want to help our dealers make money and build their businesses.
Davis, Bridgestone: It all comes down to partnership. Bridgestone and our dealers are aligned on this key point: Success is achieved only by collaborating and working together. Our dealers look for us to outline clear and measurable strategies for how we can work together to drive growth and incremental sales.
Weller, CMA: Dealers want confidence in the consistency of product availability, pricing, sales representation, quality, and approach to the market. We strive to provide our dealer customers with confidence in these areas and more by communicating regularly and often.
Schroeder, Cooper: Commercial tire dealers want high quality products they can receive in a timely manner when ordered that allow them to achieve their business and profit goals. At Cooper, we are listening closely to both our dealers and consumers to understand their needs and then develop the right products and services to meet those needs.
Brian Buckham, general manager of product marketing at Goodyear: We strongly urge dealers to “think beyond tires” and offer the Goodyear Total Solution — which consists not only of trusted products but also reliable services and management tools to fleets. Goodyear’s Total Solution is designed to drive down fleet operating costs, and we believe it’s the future of the tire supplier-dealer-fleet relationship.
Within the Goodyear Total Solution, one reliable service that can generate consistent revenue for dealers while helping fleets achieve their goals is 24/7 Goodyear-Fleet HQ Emergency Roadside Service, which has put more than 1.1 million trucks back on the road, with a target roll time of two hours. Goodyear dealers also have access to the Goodyear Smart Tech App, which gives them visibility into the road service process, while helping drive down roll times even further.
Goodyear also offers a wide range of fleet management tools, including its proprietary Tire Trac online tire management system, which monitors tire installations, performance, maintenance and other key metrics to help fleets make better decisions about their tire assets. Goodyear recently enhanced its Preferred Fleet Dashboard, which extends the same high-level service reporting that large, national account fleets enjoy to dealers’ local book customers.
We continue to enhance Goodyear’s Total Solution to help support dealers’ efforts to lower fleet operating costs.
Henessee, Kumho: Dealers need a true partner that not only provides quality service but stands behind its products and programs and shares relevant market intelligence information that supports future business decisions. We keep our customers abreast of market trends and areas of potential opportunity through U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association data analysis on a monthly basis.
Jepsen, Kumho: They need a legitimate partner that understands their business and has the expertise and knowledge to create solutions and value-added programs to support their sales goals. We leverage geo marketing and fleet lists with customers to help them identify significant opportunities in their markets — some that they may have missed or did not know existed. We want to ensure that we stay ahead of the game and discover new ways to help acquire incremental sales and provide quality products to their customers.
Beall, Michelin: We are focused on supplying the right tire at the right place. We have made and continue to make it abundantly clear to our independent dealer network that Michelin is committed to supporting their growth and investment in the market with tires, retreads, as well as a mutual development of service offerings.
Murphy, Michelin: Our customers want us to help them improve the profitability of their operations, and a big part of that is helping them simplify their everyday lives. It is with this purpose in mind that we are making the significant investments I referenced in making Michelin the easiest partner with whom our customers do business.
Scott Rhodes, vice president of North American sales for Omni United: From our experience, commercial tire dealers need consistency in supply, a range that includes long -haul, regional, trailer, wide-base and mixed service tires, SmartWay verification and product performance. Domestic supply for fill-in support, SmartWay verification on long-haul tires and enhanced warranties on product performance are all good selling points.
Dashiell, TBC: Customers are looking for consistency in programs and a superior supply chain. Our customers have noted that they are looking for competitive programs and products that are available when they need it; and they are looking for a supplier with which it’s easy to do business.
To make it easier to do business with and to support our distributors, TBC Brands has added sales personnel to provide more personalized service, allowing for our sales team to better understand our customers’ needs and make improved recommendations on products that support our customers’ businesses and market growth opportunities. We have also simplified many of our programs, and will continue in these efforts, to allow our customers to better leverage the opportunities that we can bring to them with programs that are designed to support their businesses.
Graber, Toyo: Dealers feel they don’t see their manufacturers’ reps enough. They say the reps are too spread out and usually not available to support their salespeople in the field. We heard them, and added resources on the commercial side to create smaller and more manageable territories. Our field staff focuses on supporting the dealer salespeople by making joint calls and providing product training and performance tracking in the field. We have also recently launched a state-of-the-industry product training website for our commercial dealers.
Phillips, Triangle: The market today is very competitive. Offering a quality tire at a competitive price has simply become table stakes. It’s the value-added benefits that distinguish tire manufacturers in the market. One thing that is extremely important to dealers is supply. They are trying to manage their inventories and this forces them to rely more on their suppliers. They need to have their orders filled in a timely manner. At Triangle we have made a significant investment in a major mixing warehouse facility in Weihai, China. What this means is, in most cases we don’t need a production run to build the tires before we ship the order. At any given time there are more than one million tires in the warehouse ready to ship immediately. This provides a huge benefit to the dealer. We’ve also opened our first U.S. warehouse in Tennessee, which makes product more readily available.
Clauer, Yokohama: We believe we have some of the best relationships in the industry and some of the best value-added solutions for our dealers. These value-adds include true market experts in the field and a full-line of long-lasting, fuel-efficient products. Yokohama is committed to bringing new products to the market, and has released several recent products intended to continue to provide a low total cost of ownership. We have also invested heavily in advanced logistics solutions, U.S.-based development, and of course, domestic manufacturing with our new TBR plant in West Point, Mississippi. Ultimately, it’s about listening to the needs of our dealers, leveraging our expertise in the market and responding in a way that ensures their long-term success.
Li, ZC Rubber: The raw material market changed greatly during the past months. The manufacturers, facing the pressure of raw materials, had to increase prices sharply. Then when the raw material prices drop quickly, the high cost inventory in hand is another trouble. ZC Rubber is always working to be a reliable partner of distributors. We will work together to set up the proper strategy, price and inventory for long-term business. ■