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´We have a dynamic and aggressive plan:’ Insurance relief, working with state associations, continued legislative action are top TIA goals, says incoming President Dick Gust

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´We have a dynamic and aggressive plan:’ Insurance relief, working with state associations, continued legislative action are top TIA goals, says incoming President Dick Gust

Incoming Tire Industry Association (TIA) President Dick Gust approaches the position from a much different angle than his predecessors. As president of Chicago, Ill.-based Lakin Environmental Inc., Gust specializes in used tires, scrap tire disposal and tire recycling. But he says no segment of the industry will be neglected when he takes the reigns from outgoing TIA President Larry Morgan this month.

Gust´s ascension comes on the heels of a bittersweet year for the association. In March, TIA announced it was shelving its proposed check-off program, citing a lack of support from the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA). RMA officials say they pulled back due to questions about the program´s constitutionality and lack of tire dealer involvement.

On the upside, in May, TIA Executive Vice President Roy Littlefield announced that the association was "running in the black" again after collecting more than $1 million in membership dues during the previous 14 months. And in June, TIA officials claimed victory following a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) decision to exempt retreaders from the scope of its tire labeling rule. Meanwhile, TIA has made progress on other fronts, including the establishment of a Global Council to be "the ´Voice of the Industry´ worldwide," according to Morgan. And with membership at an all-time high, TIA also has worked on improving member benefits.

Gust is crystal clear in what his role as TIA president constitutes. "We have a dynamic and aggressive strategic plan for the industry," he says. "The primary responsibility of TIA´s president is to oversee the execution of this strategic plan." Gust recently shared his goals for the next 12 months with Modern Tire Dealer.

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MTD: What do you hope to accomplish as president of TIA? How do you plan to accomplish these goals?

Gust: As we enter 2005, the important work of our committees will continue. One of our top priorities is to establish a quality health insurance program that can be offered to our members. A task force is already in place interviewing insurance companies and evaluating various plans. The task force will continue until a comprehensive insurance plan is in place. Another major goal for next year will be improving our communications and relationships with the various state tire dealer associations.

As incoming president, I´m looking forward to working within our industry to promote the value of membership in our association. During the past few years, I´ve had the opportunity to work closely with the many volunteers and association staff members who have dedicated themselves to making our industry a better place to do business.

Another goal is to increase our membership to provide the resources necessary to expand our service and benefits package. One resource we anticipate delivering during the first quarter of 2005 is the Passenger and Light Truck Tire Conditions manual.

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MTD: In March, TIA announced it had shelved its check-off program. However, Roy Littlefield also stated that TIA is not giving up on the program. Where does the check-off program currently stand? Does TIA have plans to push the program again during your term?

Gust: During the coming year, we plan to continue our efforts to improve the public image of our industry. We believe the best method to achieve this goal is through an industry check-off program, in which a fund can be established through an organization that´s dedicated to the education of the general public and the promotion of the tire industry. We will work with all stakeholders within our industry to develop a program that provides consumers with the safety and maintenance information needed to increase awareness of our industry and improve the public´s perception of our products and services. In the interim, we will be working jointly with the RMA on the following issues:

1. the Right to Repair Act;

2. rolling resistance;

3. TREAD (Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation) Act compliance;

4. fundraising efforts for tire pressure monitoring system training;

5. annual state safety inspections;

6. tire service life.

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MTD: TIA´s membership has reached an all-time high, with more than 1,700 new members joining since March 2003. How many new members would you like to add over the next 12 months?

Gust: We are all extremely pleased with the growth TIA has experienced over the last 18 months. We are still focused on continuing that growth and are setting a goal of 1,000 new members in 2005. We anticipate that being a mix of small dealers and larger co-ops. We have two full-time staff members who are dedicated to achieving TIA´s membership goal.

MTD: What is TIA´s relationship with state and regional tire associations? Is TIA working on co-membership programs with state and regional groups?

Gust: We plan to create a State Association Council within TIA to provide a direct link between state associations and the TIA Executive Committee and board. A state association executive will chair this council. We also plan to propose to board members that a state association executive be a voting member on TIA´s board of directors. In addition, we are making plans to conduct a first-ever state association executive "fly in" to Washington, D.C. (The State Association Executive Conference and Lobbying Day is scheduled for March 1 and 2, 2005.)

When TIA develops new programs, we consider what options there are to involve state associations. In 2004, we developed a special program for state associations in the area of training that involved some revenue sharing. As we move forward, similar programs will be evaluated.

The industry will greatly benefit from a better exchange of ideas and programs between TIA and the state associations.

MTD: What lobbying efforts are TIA representatives currently involved with?

Gust: TIA is involved in lobbying efforts on the following: clarification of the applicable date for repair facilities exemption for waste oil in the Superfund; legislation to develop uniform liability laws to reduce the number of lawsuits; federal excise tax simplification for retreaders; and multiple issues with NHTSA.

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MTD: The TREAD Act has put unprecedented emphasis on tire pressure monitoring systems. Earlier this year, TIA announced the possible creation of a tire pressure monitoring system training program. Has there been any progress made there?

Gust: We are conducting research on how much funding will be needed to develop an appropriate training program for technicians. TIA and the RMA will be making an announcement during the SEMA Show regarding the development of a fundraising campaign. The industry needs to come together on tire pressure monitoring systems, as it is a critical issue for independent tire dealers.

MTD: Your company, Lakin Environmental, is active in the used tire and tire recycling fields. Will you address these segments during your term? If so, how?

Gust: Like most businesses today, Lakin Environmental faces the same struggles with the need for affordable insurance, profitability, better publicity, training and education, and government representation. For these reasons, we at Lakin have been strong supporters of TIA for many years. We´ve found that working together with association members strengthens our voice as an industry with the national and international business communities, which also strengthens our company´s position within the tire recycling segments we serve.

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MTD: TIA´s World Tire Expo (WTE) returns in April 2005 in Louisville, Ky. TIA officials promise that the show will focus on retreading. What are TIA´s plans for the retreading segment of the market?

Gust: The WTE will be a major event for commercial tire dealers, retreaders and the tire and rubber recycling industries. Plans are underway to provide exceptional seminars and exhibitions for these specific segments. As part of this program, TIA will present the first-ever Commercial Tire Industry Summit, attracting senior level executives from all factions of this vital segment. Similarly, the tire and rubber recycling program will be the best ever, featuring presentations by industry experts and a Government/Industry Day presented by the Environmental Protection Agency. (Representatives from) the commercial tire and retread (segments) also are planning a full schedule of technical sessions presented by experts from within the industry.

MTD: We´ve heard that the 2007 WTE will be held in Orlando, Fla. Is that a done deal?

Gust: We are currently considering proposals from three cities, including Orlando. A decision on the location will be made later this year.

MTD: In your opinion, what is the most important issue facing independent tire dealers today? How will TIA assist dealers in this regard?

Gust: Tire dealers are facing a number of important issues like increased competition from big box retailers and a reduced pool of qualified labor. But one of the most important issues is still the rising cost of insurance. Some companies are seeing their rates increase by more than 50% even when they haven´t filed a substantial claim in years. Others are finding it extremely difficult to even get coverage. TIA has insurance programs with Universal Underwriters and Scottsdale that can provide coverage, but rates are ultimately determined by the dealer´s loss history.

One way that TIA has been able to help dealers is by providing them with tech training and certification. Insurance companies want dealers to practice risk management so their exposure is minimized. Training is a key component toward achieving that goal. An educated workforce makes safety a top priority. Following industry-recommended practices and guidelines reduces the chances of a serious accident (occurring). Our Automotive Tire Service and Commercial Tire Service training and certification programs have helped a number of our dealers lower their insurance costs simply because they´ve been able to reduce the number and severity of claims.

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