LOUISVILLE, Ky.-Ever wonder about who really buys remanufactured passenger tires? ``People with blue cars; people with red cars,'' joked Dick Gust, president of the manufacturing division of Achievor Tire L.P. (formerly Lakin General Corp.).
Color preferences notwithstanding, the point he was trying to make during the American Retreaders' Association's recent tire conference was that, for a business to successfully market retreaded passenger and light truck tires, consumers-no matter what they drive-need to be convinced of the tires' quality and safety.
In a seminar on the challenges and opportunities available to large and small passenger retreading operations, both Mr. Gust and co-presenter Richard Hawkins, owner/operator of High-Tec Retreading in rural Berthoud, Colo., pointed to their firms' accomplishments as a road map to success.
The road, however, hasn't been free of potholes.
In 1991, some 70 percent of then-Lakin's sales came via Sears, Roebuck and Co.'s catalog. A year later, Sears pulled the plug on the 75-year-old catalog-and with it a big chunk of the retreader's customer base.
That, Mr. Gust said, has forced Achievor to undertake a major marketing readjustment by signing independent tire dealers nationwide.
Currently ranked the continent's second-largest passenger/LT retreader, Achievor is still attempting to make that adjustment.
The Chicago-based company has achieved its reputation as a first-class, bead-to-bead tire remanufacturer, Mr. Gust said, through stringent quality control and recycling measures in a highly modern plant that makes almost 300 different tire sizes and designs. Since 1981, it has produced more than 3 million tires.
Both presenters hammered home the ``quality'' message, with Mr. Gust encouraging retreaders to resolve to not ``take a back seat to anyone in supplying tires to anyone. We can supply tires always at a lower cost than new-tire suppliers, plus we're saving energy and recycling....
``Stand behind your product. We do. We have quality products, and we're very proud of them.''
He added that Achievor now offers a ``lifetime'' warranty, ``basically unheard of (in retreading). If our tire fails for any defect in materials or workmanship for the life of the tread, we'll replace it or give the customer a refund-that's how much integrity we feel we've built into every tire.''
Mr. Hawkins offered his own personal formula for success: ``E-K-A-Q-C''-Education; Knowledge; Application of that knowledge; and Quality Control. Quality is the key ingredient and an absolute necessity in each retread, he stressed.
``Give the consumer value for their money...,'' he urged. ``Make it your goal that when a customer sees a retread in your showroom, he has difficulty telling that it's a remanufactured tire.''
Unlike Achievor, High-Tec does more conventional shoulder-to-shoulder retreading. Its entire production of 150 tires per day is sold wholesale to dealers, 80 percent of whom are within 100 miles of its plant.
To his success formula, Mr. Hawkins also added an ``M'' for Marketing, explaining, ``We need to market our (retreads) differently.... We're building tires for future investment-to keep the customer returning.''
And if a tire problem arises, whether or not a customer will return depends on how a retreader handles that problem, he said.
He urged retailers to display in-store information to help customers understand the quality that goes into retread production.
Mr. Gust was asked about the dearth of successful passenger retreaders in recent years. He praised the ``excellent job'' large truck tire retreaders have done in producing and marketing quality products, and prodded passenger retreaders to do the same.
Then he challenged new-tire manufacturers to ``step up and produce passenger casings that can be retreaded.'' Some 90 percent of the carcasses examined in Achievor's plant cannot be retreaded, he said-usually due to poor casing quality.
To a question about the difficulty in marketing passenger retreads, Mr. Hawkins replied that he hasn't always been a wholesaler. Several years ago he operated three retread-only stores that each sold more than 1,000 tires per month.
``The key was: We had people behind the counter who believed in the product,'' he said.
Education, Mr. Gust concurred, is crucial to success. ``We need to do a better job educating the people who are selling our products to convince them that, because our technology has changed, retreads are not the same as they were 30 years ago.''