Have tire makers begun, once again, to pay closer attention to the fortunes of independent dealers? And, if so, will relations between the two begin to improve, after deteriorating for the past several years as manufacturers sought out new channels of distribution?
There are signs that the negative feelings between dealers and their suppliers could grow more positive.
In recent weeks, two of the largest U.S. tire makers-Goodyear and Michelin North America-have revealed new programs intended to make their independent dealer customers more competitive and, ultimately, more profitable.
Later this month, Goodyear-80 percent of whose tires are sold by independents-will announce four new programs aimed at keeping its dealers ``competitive with any other channel of distribution.''
Michelin, meanwhile, has determined that independent dealers offer it the highest opportunity for growth. It has pilot programs under way in three U.S. markets to help small- to medium-sized dealerships become more competitive and profitable. The company intends to offer such programs on a broader scale later this year.
Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., too, with its Affiliated Dealer Program, is working to ensure the competitiveness and long-term viability of its single-location independent dealerships.
For dealers, this renewed interest in their welfare by North America's three largest tire makers is significant.
The fact is, independent tire dealerships control more than half the U.S. retail tire market, and tire manufacturers need them to distribute their products. For this reason, they are taking steps to ensure long-term dealer viability.
The primary goal is profitability-for the dealer as well as the manufacturer. If tire makers' new programs can restore this profitability, then relations with dealers automatically will improve.
In the meantime, dealers should keep an open mind toward their suppliers' new programs and do everything possible to make them successful.
They have much to gain in doing so.