FLINT, Mich.-Northwest Tire & Service Inc. owner James Faught has a definite knack for building relationships. His relationships with customers helped him turn a credit manager's job at a Firestone company-owned store in 1958 into a chanceto run his own independent Firestone retail store.
Later, his relationships with his customers, employees and suppliers helped him parlay that opportunity into what is now a $10 million-a-year Goodyear dealership based in Flint.
``Don't fear relationships,'' he said. ``Make them mutually beneficial.''
Mr. Faught will become the National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association's 69th president at its convention in Dallas, Sept. 8-11. He believes his ability to form beneficial relationships will help him guide the NTDRA's strategic planning process during the next year.
The NTDRA's Strategic Planning Committee, charged with reworking the association's bylaws and developing its goals and mission beyond the year 2000, has been chaired by Mr. Faught since its inception earlier this year.
One area the group will look into, it announced in August, is the possibility of joint ventures between the NTDRA and the American Retreaders' Association.
``I won't be a ceremonial president,'' Mr. Faught said plainly during an interview in his Flint office. ``I'd rather spend those hours developing who we are and where we want to be in the coming years.''
Mr. Faught is a 23-year tire dealer who ``fell into sales'' in 1958 after answering a newspaper advertisement for an office and credit manager at a Detroit Firestone store.
He began selling merchandise to customers by recording what they thought they wanted to buy in the near future on the index cards that held their account histories.
His ingenuity got him noticed by his managers, and by the late 1960s, when he was selling tires to dealers, he had a realization.
``(The dealers) weren't selling anything, they were just taking orders,'' he said. ``I realized I was a better salesman than they were, but they made all the money.''
He decided he wanted a business of his own, and in 1971 he opened an independent Firestone store in Flint.
That began Mr. Faught's career as a dealer, which the 19-year NTDRA member intends to draw on as he continues the association's tradition of helping dealers prepare for changes in the industry.
In a little more than two decades, Mr. Faught has grown his business from one outlet to eight, in Flint, Saginaw and Lansing, with retail sales of about $9.5 million. During that same period, he has had to contend with changing suppliers, an evolving market and competition from Discount Tire Co. Inc., an aggressive low-price retailer.
When Goodyear began broadening its distribution channels in 1992, Mr. Faught expanded Northwest Tire's tire offerings to include General, specific Michelin, Uniroyal and BFG lines, and private brand tires.
He had to, he said, because his supplier relationship had ceased to be ``mutually beneficial.''
Today, dealers must supply what customers demand, he said, including wide ranges of tire lines, fast, fair-priced service and trustworthy customer-employee relationships.
That philosophy has worked for Northwest Tire.
Still, the rash of discount and mass merchandisers selling tires and the fading loyalty of suppliers have driven one point home.
``It's opened our eyes to where our allegiance should be,'' he said.
``The bottom line on my balance sheet,'' he said firmly.
Mr. Faught said his main focus for the upcoming year is on the NTDRA's Strategic Planning Committee, which will be operating in an ``exciting and changing'' time for dealers and the association.
Most association members agree, he said, that the NTDRA must stay focused on helping independent dealers contend with a changing industry that has seen a decline in small dealerships but has a ``tremendous potential for growth'' for medium and large dealerships.
Many of the association's current functions are tailor-made to do just that, including its lobbying efforts and programs for workers compensation claims, loans and credit applications, he said.
``If you're going to get bogged down in that stuff, you're going to lose focus on what you need to do, and that's grow your business,'' he said. ``Let your association do that work for you-locally or on the national level.''
Mr. Faught, who will end his term in 1995 in New Orleans, said it is time to plan beyond 2000.
``Our most difficult task is reaching the dealers who need the association the most,'' he said. ``The poor guy who's running a mom-and-pop operation with one location: He's the one who needs everything you can do for him, but he's the one who doesn't have the time to look into the association.''
Although planning committees tend give the impression things need to be changed, Mr. Faught said he is keeping an open mind.
``There are a lot of good things the association does, and if it ain't broke, don't fix it,'' he said.
———————————————————————————————————- NORTHWEST TIRE AT A GLANCE
Locations: Eight, in Flint (4), Saginaw (3) and Lansing (1).
Sales: $10 million total: $9.5 million retail, $500,000 wholesale.
Typical outlet: Locations have one store manager, one service manager, two or three retail salesmen, a number of auto technicians and a tire installer.
Tire brands: Goodyear, General, Michelin, Uniroyal, BFGoodrich and private brands.
History: President James Faught started with a Firestone store in 1971 and moved into his own location in Flint in 1976. The company phased out Firestone in 1977 and took on BFGoodrich until 1983, when it became a Goodyear G-110 contract dealership.