AKRON-It ``ain't broke,'' but General Tire has decided anyway to fix its Buyline Department, which handles dealers' telephone orders of commercial, passenger and light truck tires. As part of an overhaul of its marketing plan-in order to get sales and marketing efforts ``closer to our customers''-the tire maker is relocating 16 inside sales positions out of its Akron headquarters and into district offices in Dallas, Atlanta and Los Angeles, according to Chris Dickson, General vice president of marketing.
About 54 employees will remain in Akron to handle internal sales to General's Northeast district, as well as clubs, private brands, exports and customer service.
``We're looking to bring together our sales organization both internally and externally within one managerial area,'' he said. ``We believe that will be a better move for our dealers because then we'll have integrated management of the sales operation.''
Ironically, he admitted there have been few complaints about the current system. ``Far from it. Dealers, by and large, have indicated they're very happy'' with it.
But Mr. Dickson said, from the company's standpoint, ``for the future, we would like to see our organization more empowered, more active in the local environments than it has been in the past. To achieve that, this is a move we feel is advantageous both for our dealers and ourselves.''
On its own, the move may be difficult to understand, he said, but is really part of a long-range strategy the company hopes will allow it ``to be more proactive and more service-orientated-which is really (our) objective.''
Currently, if a dealer contacts an inside sales representative who is busy or otherwise unavailable, he is referred to another rep. With the new system, that may not always be possible. But Mr. Dickson downplayed the potential inconvenience to dealers, estimating that presently only about 2-4 percent of calls go unanswered.
How long the relocation takes will be determined by how quickly General can fill the 16 sales positions, Mr. Dickson said. The jobs have been posted, and staff members currently in the positions being transferred may apply for the jobs, but there is no guarantee they will be hired.
Those who are hired probably will receive some type of relocation assistance, he said, while those that don't transfer will lose their jobs and receive ``the normal package'' of termination benefits.
The ``ideal'' situation, he noted, would be to relocate all 16 persons. That would accellerate the implementation of the new system and negate the need for training.
As far as dealers losing the rapport they've built up with current sales reps who decide not to make the move, Mr. Dickson said General's ``reason for doing this is not to have that happen. In fact, it's to try and get a completely coordinated service approach for our customer, where the guys on the ground and the inside sales people are working together....In the long term, our objective is to have better service than we have at the moment.''
At present, General's district offices serve as a base from which local sales teams operate.
The moves are not part of a wider plan to cut employment and costs or to vacate the Akron headquarters, Mr. Dickson assured.
According to Jeff Scarbrough, vice president of Crossroads Tire Inc. in Merrillville, Ind., General's current centralized inside sales operation ``has been a great system,'' and he's had ``no problems'' with it. His sales reps are staying in Akron, so not much will change for the dealership.
The new plan may indeed better serve dealers, believes Tony Mattioli, president of Wilson Way Tire Co. Inc., Stockton, Calif., and a member of General's Commercial Dealer Council.
He said he understands the primary motivation for the change is to cut costs, but will reserve judgment until it's actually put into practice.
``General and Continental (A.G., its parent company) change the changes before the changes are in place. So, as a dealer, I don't get too darn excited anymore until it happens.''
``I've told them,'' he added, ``they make musical chairs obsolete.''
Beth Ann Earle in Akron contributed to this report.