DALLAS-Coming from someone who'd been in the ``trenches'' himself, the words came both as affirmation as well as motivation-and probably were no surprise to most. ``Private brands are a vital part of the independent (tire) dealers' arsenal,'' Louis DiPasqua told attendees at the National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association's 74th annual conference and trade show, held in Dallas.
Private brands ``provide dealers with alternatives for the consumer-in short, they enhance the power of the retailer.
``In the final analysis, they go a long way in keeping the independent dealer America's preferred tire outlet.''
Heads nodded in agreement with the president and CEO of one of the nation's largest private branders, TBC Corp., which boasts a distribution network of some 20,000 tire dealers.
Here was an executive whose 35-year career marked a steady climb from a tire store manager to a Goodyear vice president of sales and marketing post to president of Kelly-Springfield Tire Co.
His convention keynote address was an industry insider viewpoint delivered straight up, no chaser.
``...Doomsayers who like to predict the demise of the independent dealer are wrong-dead wrong,'' he said. ``Oh sure, you're going to have to continually improve your performance, your quality, your service-and as you do, you will continue to out-distance the competition.''
Anyone expecting to receive a benevolent pat on the head may have been disappointed. They were told there's still plenty of battle to be fought.
Don't expect the warehouse clubs and discounters to roll over and play dead, Mr. DiPasqua warned. In an industry which-like virtually all others-will continue to be extremely competitive, ``we win against competition because we execute better, not because we can build a wall and shut out competition.''
He went so far as to call independent tire dealers ``category killers''-even those operating only one to five stores.
Like the Toys-R-Us, Circuit City and Radio Shack crowd who make life difficult for the Wal-Marts of the world, tire dealers can indeed outperform the low-price, big volume tire sellers like Sam's Club.
By ``building customers one at a time,'' he answered. ``By delivering customer satisfaction'' and by offering the specialized services discounters can't.
``...It's the pro who understands the value of taking care of each customer and develops personnel committed to excellence that wins out.''
However, don't expect things to get any easier. Mr. DiPasqua predicted: ``We'll see more major brands in mass-merchandising stores, major chains, and a continued commitment on the part of at least two (tire) manufacturers to develop new retail marketing formats-and expand them.''
And as larger retailers stake out a bigger piece of the action, there will be ``casualties among the unprepared.''
While it's easy to blame irresponsible pricing and promotions, in the end, ``independents win or lose by their own activities,'' he told dealers.
``You are in control of your own destiny.
``We win with quality. And remember, quality is not a thing-it's a way of life.''
Dealers, he continued, win ``with the right people in the right job,'' the right products at the right time, and with the right kind of merchandising.
He illustrated that last point with a story about a veterinarian who set up a taxidermy shop next to his animal hospital, then promoted the slogan, ``Either way you get your dog back.''
Dealers, distributors and tire makers who can address the opportunities of good inventory control and just-in-time deliveries ``will have a great advantage and will build their business'' at the expense of their competitors, Mr. DiPasqua suggested. Telling customers, ``I'll get the tires for you tomorrow'' won't work as often as it used to, he added.
Getting in a plug for his company, Mr. DiPasqua noted that TBC has shaped its distribution programs to respond more quickly to its customers' requirements. ``Distributors and dealers who are gaining on competition are doing the same thing.''
Private brands now represent a little over 50 percent of the passenger and light truck replacement tire market, he said, because of one little word: ``value.''
Add to that ``choice,'' and the customer ends up with an alternative-``a product that will deliver excellent performance at a money-saving price.''
He advised dealers to offer consumers ``a good line-up''-more than just one or two low-cost radials. Provide a range of private brand tires, including high performance, touring, aqua-channel and light truck, all with ``a warranty from the dealer and/or marketer that assures satisfaction.''
In turn, what do dealers want from their suppliers?
Product availability; high fill rates; complete line coverage; one-stop shopping; product innovation; competitive pricing and terms; merchandising support; a good relationship-a ``partnership''-with suppliers; and territory protection, he explained.
``And shame on you-you want to make a profit.''
Most private branders offer dealers a full support program in those areas, Mr. DiPasqua said. And ``as a former head of a large tire company, I know the value of private brands to the overall efficiency of the manufacturer.''