Independent tire dealers in the Pacific Northwest recently lost one of their most ardent champions when Dick Nordness, longtime executive director of the Northwest Tire Dealers Association (NWTDA), recently retired.
Nordness capped his 30-year stint at the helm of the group by overseeing its merger with the NorthwestAuto Care Alliance (NWACA), which is a member of the National Auto Care Alliance, a growing federation of state and regional automotive trade associations.
Few people know the Northwest tire market better than Nordness, who began his tire industry career in 1968, working in BFGoodrich’s Portland, Ore., office.
And even fewer people are in a better position to reflect on the changing challenges of running a state tire dealer association.
Consolidation hasn’t had as much of an impact in the Northwest as it has in other parts of the country, according to Nordness, who says that the area remains “pretty much an independent’s market.”
He cites Tire Factory Inc. – the cooperative of tire dealerships that manages the Point S brand – as helping “smaller independents stay competitive. And even the way Point S operates now – its members are still independent.
“And of course, Les Schwab is still a major player in the Northwest. When I started out in this business, Les Schwab was basically a central and eastern Oregon operation. I’ve seen them grow tremendously.” (Bend, Ore.-based Les Schwab Tire Centers Inc. now operates 460 locations, according to MTD research.)
One thing that changed over the years is what the NWTDA offered its members. Nordness cites trade shows as an example.
“When I first started with the association, trade shows were a big part of what we did,” he says. (The NWTDA hosted its own show each year.)
“I was looking over some old files recently and saw a (flyer) for our 1989 event. We had independent tire dealers come in from all over Washington and Oregon and even further away, like Montana and Idaho. We even had people from British Columbia and Alaska.”
The show generated enough cash to help Nordness minimize membership dues.
Over the years, more wholesalers and dealer groups began to stage their own shows, he recalls. “And each of those groups has their own programs for dealers. A lot of what trade associations did was taken over by distributors.
“And of course, those distributors were our members, too, so we couldn’t scream too loud,” he says with a laugh.
“The final killer” of the NWTDA’s annual show “was COVID-19. We were less than a week away from opening the show in March 2020 when the governors of Oregon and Washington shut everything down.”
Over the decades, the NWTDA battled legislation that would have harmed its members, says Nordness.
“When I first started with the association, we were dealing with studded and scrap tire issues. And I think in those two areas we did a great job.
“It seemed like almost every legislative season – whether it was Washington or Oregon or sometimes both – there was a bill that would have banned studded tires. But we fought successfully to keep them.”
The association identified other areas where it could have a positive legislative impact.
“We were among the first states – even before California – to have scrap tire laws – working with industry and government to promote rubberized asphalt” and other applications.
“Working with state legislators, we were able to come up with a program to clean up scrap tire piles.
“My predecessor at the NWTDA, Keith Rowbathom, who was a great protector of the independent tire dealer, always said, ‘If we don’t have anybody watching the hen house, a fox is going to get in.’”
Training has also been critical.
“We picked up on training early on,” says Nordness. “In 1998, I became a certified instructor for the Tire Industry Association’s commercial truck tire training program.”
Nordness believes that the NWTDA’s merger with NWACA is the next logical step for the association, which under his direction has grown to represent around 400 retail tire outlets throughout Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska.
The coupling will give association members access to even more programs and services, which is important to Nordness on a personal level.
“These aren’t just members,” he says. “Over the years, they’ve become friends. We’ve helped them stay competitive in the marketplace. It’s been good to work with them.”