AKRON-Sam Gibara wants Goodyear's independent tire dealers to be happy. Happy as in profitable. Happy as in competitive. Happy as in pleased with the relationship they have with the tire maker.
And he's taking steps to make that more probable beginning in 1995.
Addressing concerns and issues of its independent dealers and dealer council, Goodyear will introduce four sets of programs at its annual dealer meeting in San Diego, Jan. 22-24, aimed at helping its dealers-large and small-be ``competitive with any other channel of distribution.''
Interviewed at the firm's Akron headquarters, Mr. Gi-bara, Goodyear's executive vice president for North American tires, discussed the new programs in broad terms, leaving details to be outlined in San Diego.
To improve dealer competitiveness, Goodyear's 1995 marketing and sales efforts will give dealers:
1) New product lines sold exclusively through the independent dealership channel and supported by a broad marketing and advertising effort. Other retail channels also will get dedicated lines;
2) Growth incentives through marketing and sales programs that will financially reward dealers who sell more Goodyear tires;
3) Programs that make the company easier to work with and that improve service; and
4) Programs that will encourage and help dealers to expand their businesses and add locations within their own markets.
``The issue is to be successful, and we are going to give our dealers the means to be successful,'' Mr. Gibara said.
The new programs come after several years of dealer complaints and concerns over changes in the company's distribution practices.
The tire maker rankled many of its dealers nearly three years ago when it added mass merchandiser Sears, Roebuck and Co. to its distribution mix, altering its long-standing policy of selling only through company-owned stores, franchised outlets and independent dealers, most of whom handled Goodyear tires exclusively.
The company further fanned the flames when it signed another mass merchandiser, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., and one of North America's largest dealership chains, Discount Tire Co. of Scottsdale, Ariz., which is known for its aggressive pricing practices.
Symbolizing this discontent, four California tire dealers filed a class action lawsuit last July, alleging the tire maker has unfairly diminished the ability of its franchise and contract dealers to operate profitable businesses.
Mr. Gibara, named to his current position only eight months ago, thinks it's time to move beyond these distribution issues.
``Everyone accepts the fact that Goodyear cannot be successful in the marketplace if it ignores the channels of distribution that are significant in North America,'' he said. ``We need to sell our tires through new channels as well as existing channels.''
Nevertheless, independent tire dealers continue to represent more than 80 percent of Goodyear's distribution. ``It would be suicide for Goodyear not to support them,'' Mr. Gibara said.
What's more, 1994 was the best year ever for the overall Goodyear dealer network, he noted.
``The answer to the dealers' concerns is not to ignore existing competitive channels of distribution, whether it's Sears or Discount Tire or anybody else,'' he said. ``We cannot ignore reality. The answer is to provide the Goodyear dealer with the means and the programs to be competitive and successful in the marketplace.''
It is critical, he added, that Goodyear make sure its dealer network continues to grow, continues to develop the Goodyear brand, continues to expand and continues to be successful.
Mr. Gibara and his management team developed the new sales and marketing programs after spending several months listening to dealers' concerns.
Upon being named to his new post last May, Mr. Gibara traveled the country for three months meeting with dealers and trying to understand their problems.
In June, he, Goodyear Chairman Stanley Gault and the entire North American management team attended the Goodyear Dealer Council meeting. ``And we listened,'' he said.
The team then went to work developing programs ``to address the concerns as they've been expressed by the Dealer Council and by the dealers I've talked to during visits,'' Mr. Gibara said.
By October, a preliminary plan was ``sketched out'' and Mr. Gibara again toured the country talking about the ideas.
At a second Dealer Council meeting in November, also attended by Mr. Gault, Goodyear shared its program ideas, received dealer input and then finalized its plans.
``The programs we have designed are intended to be flexible and try to address as many needs as there are circumstances in the marketplace,'' Mr. Gibara said.