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Goodyear Dealer Conference, Aftermath: Observations and comments

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Everybody at the recent Goodyear Dealer Conference in Kissimmee, Fla., seemed to do and say the right things.

NASCAR President Mike Helton and driver Michael Waltrip were on hand as Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. Chairman, CEO and President Bob Keegan officially signed a five-year extension as the exclusive tire supplier to NASCAR. The deal continues a 54-year continuous sponsorship streak with the organization.

Waltrip, co-owner and driver of the new Toyota Camry team (Keegan described it as a “sports/entertainment franchise), said there is no relationship “as critical, important and significant” as that with Goodyear.

Commenting on Goodyear tires versus competitors, he said “Goodyear, good. Other people, not so much.”

Jon Rich, president of Goodyear Tire North America, followed that with praise for the independent, company-owned and mass merchandising retailers in attendance. “There are no customers more important to us than all of you.”

The continued support from and sacrifices made by dealers during the three-month strike, one of the longest work stoppages in company history, were appreciated by Goodyear. “We won’t forget that,” said Rich. He promised “fewer SKUs, more concentrated brands and improved product vitality.” Direct factory deliveries will be increased as well.

Goodyear admitted to losing sales during the strike. “We’re going to work enormously hard to win that business back,” said Rich.

The final speech at the general session on day two of the conference took on an almost religious tone. “Give us another chance,” said Jack Winterton, vice president and general manager of channel sales for Goodyear North American Tire, to dealers who needed to go elsewhere for product during the strike.

Goodyear incorporated the Goodyear blimp into a new advertising campaign, “Get There.” It was well-received. Even the dealers unsure about the ads themselves loved the blimp, a true iconic symbol. (The day after the Super Bowl between the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts, the Denver Post described Bears quarterback Rex Grossman’s first interception as “a Goodyear blimp of a pass.”)

Goodyear recently created a customer marketing group “to be your voice at corporate headquarters,” said Joey Viselli, director of Goodyear brand consumer tires.

Keegan thanked the dealers on the final day of the conference, and reflected on what he called a “turbulent” 2006. “It demanded the ultimate in flexibility from you and us, and we got it.”

Over the course of the three days, Goodyear promoted Goodyear. Even when singers sang, cloggers clogged and marching band members marched, they were draped in blue and gold.

Goodyear executives did and said all the right things. And because of new products, a favorable union contract in hand and an ad campaign based around Goodyear’s core values, the dealers believed them. –- Bob Ulrich

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