CLEVELAND-Dunlop Tire Corp. kicked off its ``Grass Roots-Spreading the Word'' ride-and-drive, held jointly with the American Sport Truck Association (ASTA), at Cleveland's International Exposition Center, Sept. 29. Organizers of the tire-testing event said they believe their Grass Roots marketing campaign, scheduled to tour U.S. cities at least through the end of 1995, offers participating dealers a unique opportunity to boost sales of Dunlop-brand tires.
Dunlop is targeting its Grass Roots marketing program at automotive and light truck enthusiasts who are seen as ``opinion setters'' by their peers and who can provide effective word-of-mouth advertising for the Dunlop brand, according to Patrick J. Logue, vice president of marketing.
The campaign features club sponsorships, direct mailings and ``road shows,'' like the one in Cleveland, where Dunlop representatives, area tire dealers and local consumers jointly are able to test-drive various products.
Dunlop contends its Grass Roots road-show format is unique because the ride-and-drive events are being held jointly with enthusiast groups, like the ASTA, and their members.
``It gives us a chance to listen to people in real-world situations,'' said John Moore of Dunlop's advertising agency, Moore Stickney Associates Inc. ``It's gutsy. I give them a lot of credit for doing it.''
Not all of the comments the tire consumers provide, he noted, have to be complementary. In Cleveland, however, they were.
Of the 30 or so participants, most said they saw a clear difference in handling between sport utility vehicles they drove with their original equipment tires and, later, identical vehicles outfitted with Dunlop Sport Rover GTXs.
Dealers and enthusiasts tested the tires by driving through the streets of a Cleveland suburb and on two temporary exercise tracks the tire maker created in the expo center's parking lot.
``This gives us one-on-one communication with the (light truck) enthusiast and brings the dealers in so we can have a really nice synergy going on here,'' said Dave Shelton, Dunlop manager of enthusiast marketing and director of the road show events.
Tire dealers attending the road shows, Mr. Shelton said, are able to get firsthand knowledge of Dunlop products, which could help them sell tires in the showroom.
Ross Kogel, president of Troy, Mich.-based Tire Wholesalers Co. Inc., and Dean Mueller, vice president of Cleveland-based Mueller Tire Co., both attended the Grass Roots program and said they try to send their employees to similar events for that reason.
``I think its good for Dunlop's business, and it's good for my business,'' said Mr. Kogel, who attended the ride-and-drive with his sales manager, Jon Meyers.
``...When (a salesman) is talking to a customer, he can say `I know this tire does this because I saw it firsthand,' if he has driven on the tires himself,'' he said.
A number of sales representatives from 76-year-old, family-owned Mueller Tire attended the Cleveland ride-and-drive.
``I think the benefits are just immeasurable,'' said Mr. Mueller, who operates the five-outlet retail dealership with his brother, Scott, and father, Walter. ``It's hard to convince a customer that there are benefits (to a particular tire) unless you actually drove on it.
``They can flood you with propaganda on what a tire can do,'' Mr. Mueller continued, ``but in a selling atmosphere that doesn't mean anything. You have to drive on a tire to know what it actually does....Instead of selling on price, I'm selling on how it rides and what it does.''
In fact, before letting dealers test the sets of GTXs, Dunlop salesmen presented the selling points of the tire.
``Most of us, when we buy tires, tend to look at price, and we tend to look at mileage,'' Mr. Shelton admitted. But, he continued, if a tire doesn't communicate a driver's actions to the road/ground-and put them into effect-then those actions were for naught.
``When do you need the performance out of a tire? That's in a potential emergency situation,'' he said, noting dealers should be selling the Sport Rover GTX on its safety and handling features.
The H- or T-rated GTX is built to satisfy light truck users interested in a performance tire for on-road driving with responsive handling, all-weather control, smooth ride, low noise and long mileage, Dunlop said.
Those benefits, salesmen said, can hook the sport-utility-vehicle user once his or her original equipment tires need to be changed.
Dunlop will try to hold three more ride-and-drive events by the end of the year. Plans call for about 10 in 1995, although the dates and locations of future events have yet to be determined.