Europe is lacking in tire training
Having worked in the global tire market for the past two decades I have seen a number of important innovations and developments which have continually enhanced how tires are manufactured, distributed and sold.
However, during all this time there is one side of our industry that, in my opinion, at least in Europe, seems to be lagging behind. I am talking about the simple but important art of training.
Of course ongoing training in tire manufacturing continues to keep pace, but I am particularly referring to the retail end of the tire chain. Over the years I have spent a considerable amount of time reporting on and working within the retail tire sector in Europe. I have never felt that the customer coming through the door of a fast-fit center or garage receives what I call a professional opinion on the best brands for their particular use.
If you survey a lot of industries it is clear to see that training plays an important role — such as in engineering, science and more social services such as bakeries and butchery. However, no such service seems to be available to the tire industry in Europe. Once tires have been successfully distributed by an appointed wholesaler to a tire retailer or service garage the product is displayed in racks and additional stocks are then kept in storage.
At this point all the various brands that any retailer promotes are available for sale, but just how experienced and competent are Europe’s tire salesman to professionally advise customers? It’s true there are plenty of glossy brochures provided by tire manufacturers, but this is not the same as practical “classroom’ tuition” which I believe should be provided.
Most of the leading equity tire retailing groups do organize their own in-house training sessions both in the branches and at company headquarters, but having sat-in on some of these impressive courses they seem to cover the safety aspects of modern tires rather than the various benefits to customers on tread life, cornering stability and, in the case of 4x4/SUV drivers, the off-road qualities of each brand. As the owner of a 4x4 vehicle myself I firmly believe that additional tuition on each off-road brand a retailer is promoting should, as standard, include constructive advice on which brands are best for each driving situation.
Winters in Europe (apart from extreme northern countries and Scandinavia) are not usually handicapped by severe winter driving conditions, but with our global weather patterns continuing to provide the “completely unexpected” there is a growing need to educate European drivers on the fitting of the correct tires for each eventuality.
We all know that across some of America, winter road conditions can be extremely harsh, but in some parts of Europe winter road conditions are not an annual problem. But when storms do hit, it’s a severe situation. Therefore, I believe that ongoing training sessions should be essential for all European tire retailers.
Perhaps this is a controversial view, but as the tire market continues to move forward at a fast rate, perhaps tire training should keep in touch with all future developments. If tire manufacturers want the retail sector to successfully promote their brands, then in my view they should become involved in taking professional training sessions through to all of their retailers. In Europe the price of a tire is “king,” which in effect means most drivers buy their tires without any knowledge of their quality and safety.
With so many sales promotions taking place in tire retail outlets it is understandable that sales staff will naturally try to recommend a particular brand if they are going to receive more in their pay packet. This means training comes a “poor second” for nearly all retailers.
In Europe it is a known fact that there is a steady increase in tire-related accidents on the roads, so surely now is the time to take a long, hard look at taking new measures to educate tire sales personnel to a new higher level of efficiency. ■
John Stone has been working within the global tire industry for the past 20 years. In 2004 he launched his own company, Sapphire Media Services, as a business media consultant with clients around the globe. Stone also writes for tire and automotive-related publications in Europe, South Africa and Asia.
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