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Five minutes with: Falken Tire's Richard Smallwood

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Falken has long been known as a tuner brand. But now Falken Tire Corp. is targeting the premium performance market with a new tire, the Ziex ZE912, which it showed off last week at a ride-and-drive in Thailand. In this exclusive interview, Falken President Richard Smallwood discusses Falken's marketing focus and its plans for 2007.

This is the latest installment in moderntiredealer.com's "Five minutes with..." interview series. It was conducted during Falken's ride-and-drive event near Pattaya, Thailand.

MTD: Is Falken moving away from the tuner segment?

Smalwood: The tuner business is still alive and well, but Falken is maturing and we have the opportunity to pursue more categories.

MTD: Falken says it's selling five times as many Falken brand units as it did in 2002. To what do you credit that growth?

Smallwood: It's a combination of things. Going back to the year 2000, we made a decision to be a marketing company instead of a sales company. We have a very narrow product line. It came down to deciding what we wanted to do with the brand and indentifying what categories we could be successful in. We look a whole lot bigger than we really are.

MTD: Any plans to broaden Falken's product spectrum?

Smallwood: We have plans, but they're probably two years away.

MTD: What are Falken's plans for the rest of 2007?

Smallwood: We're continuing to build our drift program, which has been a big success. We've built drift cars for our three biggest customers: Sears, Discount Tire and TBC Corp. We're in the process of studying the launch of a new motorsports program in 2008. Another big thing will be bringing our wheel program back. In 2006, we kind of let our wheel business slip. But the main thing is strengthening our distribution.

The Ziex ZE912 will be available through Falken's independent tire dealer network starting this June, Smallwood notes. The tire is built at Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd.'s passenger tire plant in Thailand. (Sumitomo is Falken's parent company.)

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