The following is the latest in MTD's exclusive series of interviews with top tire industry executives about the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on business and what their companies are doing to prepare dealers for a post-pandemic market and industry. Stay tuned to www.moderntiredealer.com for more coverage!
As president and CEO of TBC Corp., Erik Olsen oversees a vast empire that includes more than 600 retail stores that operate under the Tire Kingdom and NTB Tire & Service Centers banners, the Big O Tires and Midas franchise organizations, an e-commerce operation (www.tireamerica.com) and several other high-profile ventures.
TBC also bills itself as the largest marketer of private brands in North America and operates National Tire Wholesale, one of the country’s largest tire wholesale distribution operations, encompassing more than 100 locations that serve 90-plus metropolitan centers.
Olsen believes it’s too early to pinpoint when the United States tire market will roar back to its pre-COVID-19 strength. “What I do know is that at TBC, we are working towards what our ‘new normal,’ will look like,” he says.
This includes identifying “areas of opportunity to serve customers, dealers and franchisees via services, programs and products that are the most beneficial to them at this time. Our partnerships with suppliers remain strong as we continue to support one another, and programs have been implemented for business continuity purposes.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Olsen says TBC’s team “made swift adaptations when and where necessary to maintain the level of service that our customers, dealers and franchisees have come to expect – while keeping the health, safety and well-being of our associates, customers and communities the priority.”
Months later, as stay-at-home orders in most states have been lifted, Olsen says TBC is seeing an increase in demand for medium truck and ag tires – the former segment due to the need “to keep delivery trucks on the road, distributing food, supplies and mail.”
And as time marches on, he’s optimistic that “all segments of the tire market” will bounce back.
“Our team has done an excellent job of preparing for many scenarios to ensure we have the product that customers want – when and where they want it.”
Olsen says TBC remains dedicated to projects and initiatives that are already in place, including new product introductions and programs. (The company introduced an enhanced version of its Sailun Advantage truck tire warranty last month.)
At the same time, he adds, TBC personnel are working diligently “to maintain the flow of product” to customers. “Current orders to our distribution centers continue to be on-schedule. All factory-direct orders are being processed and shipped.”
All TBC distribution centers have remained open “and we are in close communication with all team members in the event an inventory rebalancing is necessary,” he notes.
“And TBC is collaborating with our manufacturing partners to address any supply challenges, as well as go-forward opportunities.”
In line with what executives from several tire manufacturers have told MTD in recent weeks, some consumers “are seeking out (tire) options that they might not have typically considered in the past.”
Meanwhile, TBC’s tire dealer customers “continue to seek an exclusive, high-quality product with top-tier performance” that also provides “enhanced profitability.
“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have witnessed the benefit of having a diverse product screen throughout all business units, especially within TBC Brands,” which is the company’s private brand division.
Olsen says TBC will continue to stay even closer to customers using mechanisms that were put in place after the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We are keeping the lines of communication open with our dealers via email blasts, phone conversations and on-line channels to ensure they are receiving timely updates and program modifications from us through multiple channels,” he notes.
“Field support teams also are in constant contact with franchisees and corporate team members have established a cadence of communication for emails, so (our) franchisees know when to expect updates. Webinars are being hosted… and marketing initiatives (are being) updated to meet current messaging needs.”
Ensuring the physical and mental well-being of both employees and customers will remain a top priority, as well.
TBC has instituted a “pandemic illness procedure” that includes health and safety protocols.
‘We are closely monitoring reports from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and have taken a number of precautionary measures.
“Additional cleaning supplies have been sourced for all locations and guidelines for wiping down surface areas and touchscreens often have been communicated and are being reinforced via meetings and written communications.
“Our team of in-store associates have committed to our no-handshake policy to help stop the spreading of germs. We have marked six-foot spacing in waiting rooms and in front of points of sale. We also are offering curbside and stay-in-car services.”
At distribution centers, the company is providing a “no-touch option for capturing proof of delivery. And we have implemented a modified will-call process that limits human interaction.”
At all locations, TBC employees are adhering to social distancing guidelines. “Guidance has been shared on wiping down high-touch surface areas, the appropriate way to dispose of face masks and other guidelines established by the CDC.”
According to Olsen, TBC’s purchasing team has been working “in partnership with our supplier partners to source and ship supplies for all company-owned retail locations and distribution centers, including masks, gloves, disinfectant spray, hand sanitizer, thermometers, floor/seat/steering wheel covers, tissues and hand soap.