SAN DIEGO-As Michelin Americas Small Tires (MAST) was telling its dealers of a hoped-for new ``alliance,'' several independents were saying they're upset with the way the tire company has been going to market. The ``mass merchandisers and (wholesale) clubs are killing us,'' said one dealer who asked not to be identified.
Although Michelin announced plans at its annual dealer meeting to release new lines exclusively to its network of independent tire dealers, MAST will continue to sell its ``biggies''-like the recently released Energy MXV4-through clubs.
John Kuhlmann of Midtown Tire Co. in Springfield, Mich., said he understands why Michelin does business with discount houses like Sam's Club and mass merchandisers like Sears, Roebuck and Co. But he can't understand the firm's pricing system.
``It doesn't bother me that Sam's has (the Energy MXV4),'' he said. ``It bothers me that they can sell it for less than I can buy it. We're talking $2 to $5 cheaper than I can buy it. That doesn't seem fair.''
Mr. Kuhlmann said his dealership has doubled its sales since it brought on the Michelin brand two years ago.
However, the tire maker's pricing and distribution system is changing the way he does business.
Midtown is the only independent dealership in Springfield, he said. To remain competitive with local chain stores-including Sears, Kmart Corp., Sam's Club, Montgomery Ward & Co., Western Auto Inc. and Tire America Inc. Mr. Kuhlmann has had to make at least one of his competitors his supplier.
He recently bought about 250 tires from Sam's Club-business he would have reserved for Michelin if its pricing scheme were different. ``Now I'm getting magazines (from Sam's). I'm on their preferred shopper's list,'' Mr. Kuhlmann said.
Ron Frei, owner of T & T Tire Inc. in Loveland, Colo., will continue to purchase tires through Michelin, although he said it's probably cheaper to buy them from mass merchandisers. ``It's just a fact of life anymore.''
Incentive trips, promotional gear and co-op advertising almost even the score, he said. ``I don't think there's really much of a price difference after the co-op and all...Besides, I don't need to help my competition.''