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Don’t call me ‘Katie’: The effects of arrogance can be long-lasting

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A recent Wall Street Journal story revealed that the “CBS Evening News” and news anchor Katie Couric are expected to part ways before the end of the year. In other news, the NBC remake of the “Bionic Woman” was canceled after half a season.

I think I can tell you why both programs were ratings failures. It all boils down to arrogance, or at the very least, a lack of respect for the general public, which includes you and your customers.

When Couric was first named to the job, she insisted on being called “Kate,” effectively throwing away all the goodwill she had earned as “Katie” on NBC’s “Today” show. She also dressed down a reporter who asked her what she was going to wear on the show, claiming it was a sexist question. Of course it wasn’t; women can wear skirts or pants suits and still be professional.

She reversed her position on her name, but the subsequent backlash was too much to overcome. I believe viewers were turned off by her ego, so they turned off the “CBS Evening News with Katie Couric.”

The “Bionic Woman” suffered from the same attitude. The show’s producers denigrated the original 1970s’s version as tacky, and ramped up the special effects. The humorless show will be a no-show next fall.

That brings me to our May issue. The results of our 2008 Private Brand Tire Study on pages 26-28 clearly show how confusing brands are in general, and private brands are in particular.

Private brands are marketed and owned by a company or organization other than the one that manufactures them. Del-Nat Tire Corp.’s namesake brands, Delta and National, are private brands. Companies like Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. manufacture the tires for Del-Nat. In contrast, Mastercraft, which is owned and produced by Cooper, is an associate brand.

Most of the respondents to our survey, to be blunt, don’t know the difference. Some even think “Cooper” is a private brand! But it doesn’t really matter to you, does it?

 If you are selling a brand — any brand — that gives you the benefits of a private brand,  such as low cost, high margin and exclusivity, who cares what it is? The vast majority of the tire-buying public trusts you to sell them what they need anyway, regardless of the brand.

For those of you who don’t believe me, check out any of the more than 400 Les Schwab Tire Centers and associate dealers in the western United States. Out there, Les Schwab is a tire brand.

Brand confusion does not play well with tire manufacturers and marketers, however, especially when they think everybody knows who they are and what they have to offer.
Sometimes that attitude borders on arrogance. When it does, make sure you put them in their place. There are a lot of brands from which to choose if a supplier isn’t willing to work with you.

 I know, I know. There can be a fine line between arrogance and confidence. Here’s the difference.

At the recent New England Tire & Service Association (NETSA) Trade Show and Convention in Uncasville, Conn., two regional pioneers were inducted into the organization’s inaugural Hall of Fame.

Roland Lesieur, co-owner of Maynard & Lesieur Inc. in Nashua, N.H., was one of them. The 79-year-old has never been afraid to let his suppliers know what he is thinking.

His column in the The Road Runner, NETSA’s newsletter, is a monthly treat. Part rant, part homespun reflection on an ever-changing industry, his column always gives credit where credit is due. One of my favorite lines of his was written back in 2005: “Tires made overseas are not cheesy anymore.”

When it came time for him to receive his Hall of Fame plaque, his speech was brief.“I’ve been fortunate to be in such a wonderful business,” he said modestly.

Paul Sullivan accepted the NETSA award for his late father, Bob Sullivan, founder of Sullivan Tire Co. Inc. in Norwell, Mass. He was proud that the association was “honoring the legacy of someone who represented the independent tire dealer very well,” and took the time to praise Lesieur and his family. Classy.

To obtain a copy of our private brand tire study, contact Pam Zsely at pam.zsely@bobit.com.    ■

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