TIA focuses on government affairs, public perception, training, member services: Efforts in each area will add value to the industry, says Raben
MTD's Tire Dealer of the Year Tom Raben becomes Tire Industry Association (TIA) president this November when he takes the gavel from current President Steve Disney at the International Tire Expo in Las Vegas, Nev. - one year after the Tire Association of North America (TANA) and the International Tire & Rubber Association (ITRA) announced their historic merger. Modern Tire Dealer recently spoke with Raben to discuss the new organization and its plans for the coming year.
MTD: How is the integration going?
Raben: The integration has been fabulous. For the first time, TANA and ITRA's boards came together (this past June) and the chemistry was perfect. It was like we'd been meeting together for 20 years. There are a lot of good people on both sides.
MTD: What's been the biggest challenge in bringing TANA and ITRA together?
Raben: The biggest thing has been details. There are a lot of issues that have to be talked and worked out -- housekeeping types of things. A lot of work was done January through June.
MTD: We understand TIA is developing several training initiatives, including a certification program.
Raben: For some of the programs, it's just a matter of re-branding them. Other issues like the Automotive Tech Certification program are being worked on.
MTD: Are there other training programs under development?
Raben: There's potential for other programs. There are issues like the TREAD (Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation) Act and the implications of that. We're looking at tire failure analysis. As accountability for tire failures becomes a big issue, defining what is a failed tire becomes more important. Calling tires failures that aren't failures comes back to haunt manufacturers and dealers.
MTD: TIA has been very aggressive in making its voice known to legislators and NHTSA. How do you prioritize government issues?
Raben: There are certain priorities that are dictated by ruling and feedback (deadlines). The first priority would be those issues that would have to be answered the quickest. We're working on all of the issues that are pertinent to our industry. Our efforts on Capitol Hill make the laws that govern the tire industry more acceptable. This adds value to our business.
MTD: What's the most important legislative issue on TIA's plate right now?
Raben: We're working hard on TREAD Act-related items like tire pressure monitoring systems. We've taken a position on reporting and confidentiality. We're involved in every phase of the TREAD Act and all that it encompasses.
MTD: Does the tire industry have a better presence in Washington than, say, five years ago?
Raben: Yes, the industry's voice is more in unison today. We have a much better exchange of dialogue before we make a statement. We have one entity now and we have more clout.
MTD: Will working with state and regional tire associations be a priority during your term?
Raben: We're working to see what programs we have, what programs they have and where we can help each other so we don't have any duplication of effort. The involvement of folks at the state association level helps our industry.
We want people in our industry to know what we are and what we're about. We need to market better to our own constituents so they can see the array of products and services that are available. We need a consistent message going out to consumers about how great our products are. We all need to sing the same song.
MTD: It's been two years since the first Firestone recall was announced. Tires aren't part of every newscast anymore. Has tire safety become an afterthought among consumers or is awareness still high?
Raben: Awareness is still probably high, but we're not doing the public advocacy for our industry that we need to. TIA's efforts to educate the public about the safety and quality of tires will improve the image of our industry.
MTD: TIA is assembling its first-ever strategic plan that will be introduced before year's end. How is it coming along?
Raben: It's progressing well.
MTD: Are you at liberty to discuss any details right now?
Raben: It's a work-in-progress, but it's well along.
MTD: What's the biggest problem facing the industry?
Raben: We need to elevate the image of our industry. It is a professional industry. We need to enhance the value of our products through education. If the consumer sees them as a commodity, he'll want to pay for them as a commodity.
We don't claim the value that our products are worth. If you adjust for inflation, tires cost way less than they did years ago.
Everything we will do in the coming year -- every effort we make, every speech a TIA leader gives, every dollar we invest -- we are doing in an effort to add value to all industry businesses.
"The idea is not to have a big association, but to have an effective association. That's what we're about."