For Goodyear dealers, 1993 brought more of the unsettling change that had characterized 1992, when their Akron-based tire supplier first broke with its traditional marketing practices in order to pursue new channels of distribution and additional points of sale. The year was scarcely under way when the tire maker signed up Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Discount Tire Co., one of North America's largest independents, with 242 retail locations in the Southwest-some in competition with existing Goodyear dealers.
Goodyear's signing of Discount Tire in January, came only three months after its link-up with another large multibrand dealership, Johnny Antonelli Tire Co. Inc., in Rochester, N.Y.
Thus news of the Goodyear-Discount Tire agreement only further fueled the dealer unrest that had erupted months earlier with the tire maker's precedent-breaking decision to sell the Goodyear brand through Sears, Roebuck and Co.'s 850 Automotive Service Centers.
Prior to the Goodyear-Sears deal, announced in March of 1992, the company's flag brand had been marketed solely through independent dealerships and company-owned stores.
Under this arrangement, the company had strongly encouraged-if not outright insisted-that its direct dealers carry nothing but Goodyear brand tires.
Thus it wasn't surprising that many Goodyear dealers saw the Sears deal as an opportunity to begin handling other brands in addition to Goodyear. Some went even further in voicing their disappointment with the company's actions.
In August, a group known as The Goodyear Independent Dealer Association, mailed a letter to members, outlining concerns and asking the dealers whether it should file a class action suit against Goodyear on their behalf.
Goodyear Vice President of Replacement Sales Alvin Eastwood, called most of the group's concerns ``too vague to warrant a response.''
Since then, leaders of the group-which consists mainly of independent Goodyear dealers in California-have declined comment, calling the situation an internal matter.
The rift between Goodyear and some of its dealers did not escape the attention of professor Louis W. Stern of Northwestern University. As part of what he described as academic research, Mr. Stern mailed survey questionnaires on the subject to 1,200 Goodyear dealers. The study's findings have not yet been made public.
Goodyear, for its part, was not to be dissuaded from venturing further from its ``traditional'' distribution channels.
By June, Canadian Tire Corp., one of Canada's largest tire retailers, was test marketing four lines of Goodyear tires, including the company's award-winning Aquatred and its popular Wrangler light truck tire.
Then, in November, Goodyear revealed plans to supply an exclusive line of all-season tires-bearing the revived ``Viva'' tradename-to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in the U.S. beginning this year.
The following month, Goodyear said it will be taking on another large multi-brand independent chain-Prineville, Ore.-based Les Schwab Tire Centers-as a fully franchised G-110 Goodyear dealership beginning Jan. 1.