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First-person plural: Publisher Greg Smith and a group of U.S. tire dealers explored Autopromotec 2005 in Bologna, Italy

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First-person plural: Publisher Greg Smith and a group of U.S. tire dealers explored Autopromotec 2005 in Bologna, Italy

Modern Tire Dealer Publisher Greg Smith received a personal invitation from the Italian Trade Commission to attend Autopromotec 2005. His first-person account of the 21st biennial international exhibition and his adventures outside the convention center follow. More than 90,000 car repair specialists attended the show.

Sometimes a phone call can make your day. "We'd like to pay your expenses for you to go to Bologna, Italy, May 18-22 and attend the Autopromotec Show. Can you do it?"

My affirmative answer to Patrick Capriati, senior marketing promotional officer of the Italian Trade Commission (ITC) made me a guest of the ITC and one of 71 delegates from 15 countries attending the international exhibition serving the automotive service industry, including tire repair specialists.

The purpose of the ITC, which operates under the Italian Ministry for Industry and Trade, is to promote trade, business opportunities and industrial cooperation between Italian and foreign companies. In the United States, the ITC has offices in New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Chicago. Automobiles and their accessories are the responsibility of the Chicago office.

My role was to talk with Italian companies that were displaying products at the show, and discuss the American market with them and whether their products could be exported to the U.S. The rest of the American tire delegation included tire dealers Ron Lautzenheiser, long-time tire industry veteran and owner of a Big O Tire store in Fort Collins, Colo.; Gary Albright, president and COO of Becker Tire & Treading Inc. in Great Bend, Kan.; Ken Brown, owner of Alan Brown Tire Center in Newport, Ore.; and retread and tire shop supply distributor Percy Ruch, owner of Mohawk Rubber Sales in Hingham, Mass.

The Autopromotec Show featured more than 1,000 exhibitors from 34 countries; they occupied more than 110,000 square meters of space. It is truly an international event for all facets of automobile and truck repair. It's also very much a working show.

As Gary phrased it, "I liked how the show was really focused to the auto repair, maintenance factor of the business. No hype or glitz."

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Ron was more retrospective: "The show seemed more like the NTDRA shows of the past, where dealers went to 'do business.'" He added that the show had a more serious nature to it compared to the SEMA Show in Las Vegas, which Ken described as a "dog and pony show."

Italy represents the largest worldwide concentration of garage equipment manufacturers, according to the Italian Association of Automotive Service Equipment Manufacturers. Almost two-thirds of the country's production is exported to other countries, totaling more than $4.4 billion in 2004 sales.

Although some of the equipment and products displayed were targeted to the European market, some were clearly adaptable to the North American market. The dealers in our group clearly saw advantages in attending overseas shows. Ken believes that what you learn and take back to your business is critical.

Gary said the next time he is looking for equipment, he'll "explore more options" than what he's done in the past. Perhaps the most important aspect of the show is the networking that takes place. All of us took time to see American suppliers who were present at the show. The discussions that took place were certainly different than when meeting with them inside the U.S.

While walking the show as a group, it was intriguing to listen to the dealers exchange information about certain products and equipment. After-sales service, innovation, pricing, training and other important topics were mentioned. All of us had a better understanding of the company and its products after this free-flowing discussion.

As the industry continues its global march, shows such as Autopromotec are becoming more important to North American tire dealers. Or as Ken put it, "I was aware of the global nature of business, but really thought of the stuff at the AAPEX Show, which is mainly Asian. But I looked through my shop and realized that my balancer and rim clamps were German, my hoists have been Italian, German and British. So maybe there's more of a European influence than I thought."

The four days spent at Autopromotec proved highly educational and roductive.

Patrick proved to be an excellent host, and the great food, wine and company made the entire trip even more worthwhile. But that's another story for possibly another time.

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In the Renault (Rhen-oh): How a car dealer in Italy sells tires

Somewhere in the translation process the signals got slightly switched. While in Italy, we wanted to visit a tire dealership, but we ended up at a stand-alone Renault service center.

It proved to be a lucky miscommunication as Paoli Generali, who ran the service center, and Mauro Ranucci, the shop foreman, proved to be great hosts. They each shed some light on how a car dealer sells tires in Italy -- which is somewhat similar to what is happening in the United States.

The dealership only sells Michelin tires. Ranucci said Michelin has the highest image in Italy, with Continental ranked just slightly under them. The service center buys all of its tires through a distributor, not directly from Michelin. The billing, however, goes through Renault, and not the distributor.

The average cost for four tires is $390, including the mounting and balancing; 16-inch performance tires run around $520 for four. Ranucci does not consider his shop in competition with local tire retailers, and said it is his shop's responsibility to convince the customer to buy from them.

Typically, a tire sale happens when the service technician tells the customer that his tires need replaced. If the tires are not in stock, they will be delivered the next day.

Tires are just a small part of the service center's business. It averages 31 cars per day, although the objective is 40 per day, said Generali. The center is open all day Monday through Friday, and half a day on Saturday.

Ranucci said he is one of 16 employees, eight of whom are technicians. The technicians are broken into two categories. The high-level techs are paid the most and are able to handle all types of repairs. The lower-level techs have a general background and handle basic mechanical repairs while under the supervision of the high-level techs.

At the present time, the shop is taking reservations for work about nine days out, but it will handle emergency repairs on an as-needed basis.

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