DALLAS-Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. officials probably would have cringed had someone called them ``consistent,'' in 1991. That's because, a few years ago, BFS's financial numbers were almost ``consistently poor.''
Sales of the Firestone brand had been declining for years and a profit was something other companies turned.
That has changed.
Last year, BFS boosted sales of both the Bridgestone and Firestone brands at a rate greater than the industry average, according to Sunil Kumar, president of BFS Tire Sales Co.
And this year, the company is forecasting a $10 million profit.
Still, that represents a profit margin of only 0.2 percent.
``Although we can feel good that the losses are over, we are still skating on thin ice,'' Mr. Kumar told about 800 BFS dealers Sept. 7 at the company's annual dealer meeting in Dallas, one day before the National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association convention.
At least the company now believes it is on the right track.
``Consistency'' has lost its bad connotation, and BFS officials want their dealers to know 1995 will hold the same financial gains, marketing tactics and program improvements as 1994 has.
``For you to compete effectively with other dealers and other channels, you must have a tire company that you can count on. A tire company with consistent marketing programs,...consistent leadership at the top...(and) that stands behind its commitments to its dealers,'' said John Gamauf, BFS executive director of consumer tire sales.
``When I talk about consistency, I'm not talking about plodding along or being dull and being afraid of change,'' he noted. ``(BFS) is a dynamic, innovative organization.''
Last year's marketing and buying programs have definitely given BFS officials confidence. So much so, in fact, that Mr. Gamauf asked dealers whether BFS passenger and light truck tires were more profitable in 1994 than 1993.
More than 75 percent of them answered ``yes'' using an interactive computer system that tracked audience response.
Later, more than 81 percent said their sales of and margins on BFS products also had improved.
Using those responses as proof that past programs are helping dealers, Mr. Kumar said BFS will continue with its multibrand strategy, dealer support programs and tire-line introductions while focusing attention-at the corporate level-on lowering debt.
BFS officials also touted their ``Family Channel'' program-which recently attracted its 1,500th dealer store. About 94 percent of the audience agreed the affiliated program made it easier to buy tires; 97 percent said it was good for their businesses.
Among the year's list of improvements is BFS's ``simplified'' billing program, which officials said reduced rejected bills from 17,000 in October 1993 to, more recently, fewer than 10. Still, the company plans to introduce its Electronic Systems Interface (ESI, pronounced ``easy''), allowing dealers to enter national accounts delivery receipts directly into the company's computer system through a personal computer.
ESI will be fully unveiled in '95 with added billing and ordering functions, beginning with commercial dealers, said Walt Weller, executive director of truck tire sales.
To help support dealer sales, the company will continue its performance emphasis with Firestone's 1995 return to Indy Car racing, according to Shu Ishibashi, director of marketing.
``Consistency is extremely critical in establishing a clear multibrand strategy,'' Mr. Ishibashi said. ``In everything we have done, from our positioning to our point-of-sale materials, to advertising and public relations, we have supported our multibrand strategy.''