As 1994 begins, a variety of recent statistics indicates the economy finally may be improving. ``But don't break out the champagne and confetti just yet,'' warns Robert J. Coen, a leading forecaster. Likewise, consumers still are a little skittish about being too optimistic, despite a rush of buying during the Christmas season.
Layoffs continue in a number of industries, and prudence suggests that tire dealers and retreaders probably should be cautiously optimistic as well, where the economy is concerned.
Instead of a boom year, it likely is more realistic to look for a moderatly better climate in 1994.
There are an estimated 100,000 economists in our country, and the easiest way to start an argument is to get two of them together. There doubtless will be a variety of forecasts for our industry alone.
It's time to take a good look at what has been happening in the last few years and make the necessary changes to ensure profitability in the years ahead. As the pace of change grows ever more rapid, the time available to adjust to changes and accept new challenges gets shorter.
A year ago I said I believed the number of passenger tire retreaders would continue to decline, and that more retreaders would leave the industry altogether.
I don't see much reason to revise that forecast, despite increased government emphasis on retreading as a method of recycling.
To my mind, the numbers just aren't there. With the rapid radialization of the marketplace, tires are lasting much longer-which means they will be replaced (or retreaded) less frequently.
The retail customer base in the U.S. is undergoing a dramatic change. Many advertisers target their campaigns at a younger age group, forgetting that the percentage of older consumers is increasing: One-third of our population is over 50, and the fastest-growing group is age 70 and above.
Also, the largest age group, the ``baby-boomers,'' is itself entering middle age. These vehicle owners are becoming more demanding in the areas of quality and service: They want high quality and the best possible service.
The increasing number of working women means a greater percentage of dealership customers will be women. Women now account for 60 percent of the vehicles bought by 18- to 24-year-olds.
To secure the repeat business of this growing group of potential customers, you must cater to their comfort and needs with clean facilities and pleasant waiting areas.
In today's highly competitive marketplace, the tire specialist must adapt to the more selective requirements of the customer. Dealers and retreaders must personalize selling methods and improve technical services in order to provide a courteous, competent and efficient atmosphere.
Keep in mind that there are three key facts about customer loyalty: it is circumstantial; it is fragile; and it is fleeting. When your level of competence no longer meets the customer's expectations, he or she will exercise other options and look for satisfaction elsewhere.
Keep your service area clean and well organized. The impression of organization and efficiency can be increased with professional-looking personnel who are neat and uniformed.
Your personnel are part of your company's product. If your employees are not sold on the quality of service your firm provides and on the importance of their role in providing it, they will never sell your customers on it, either.
There is no question that training tops the list in terms of programs you can implement to ensure that quality prevails. Nevertheless, training, by itself, accomplishes relatively little. It can impart new ideas, skills and/or attitudes to your employees, but what determines how they behave on the job is the leadership they get from their superiors.
Training should be used to give every employee an understanding of what customers want, how your company is supposed to do business and what the customer means to them in their jobs and work lives.
Many other industries are experiencing the same problems ours is, but we have one important characteristic that sets us apart: As the link between the tire user and the manufacturer, we not only sell the product, we service it.
It is this servicing aspect that distinguishes the retail tire business from other retail activities, and which will eventually assure the survival of the independent tire dealer and retreader in a world obsessed with discount selling and self-service systems.
To succeed in the years ahead, tire specialists will need to develop a sales and service package that responds to the real needs of real customers, and not to vague perceptions or assumptions.