Will 1995 go down as the year of the independent tire dealer? This might be overstating the case. But it's one way to interpret the planned marketing changes announced recently by three of North America's largest tire manufacturers. For the past several years, dealers have complained that manufacturers' pricing and other marketing policies place them at a competitive disadvantage to large-volume tire purchasers such as mass merchandisers and discounters.
These tire makers' recent announcements suggest that the dealers' plea for a ``more level playing field'' has finally been heard-and heeded-by tire makers.
Goodyear, Michelin North America and Continental General Tire Inc., at their respective dealer meetings recently, all promised to refocus attention on their independent tire dealer customers. And all three announced new marketing programs intended to make tire sales more profitable and position their dealers to be more competitive with the mass merchandisers.
While the details of these new programs are yet to be fully disclosed, they appear similar to those of Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., which reserves certain best-selling tire lines solely for its ``family channel''-namely, independent dealers and company-owned stores.
Taken at face value, all of these programs are a step in the right direction on the part of North America's four largest tire manufacturers, which collectively account for well over 75 percent of its annual tire sales.
Whether or not these changes will be enough to satisfy dealers remains to be seen. Obviously, much depends on how these programs will be implemented-and how faithfully the companies follow them in the future.
Nevertheless, by adopting such programs, manufacturers are acknowledging the essential role played by independents in getting tires to market. Moreover, tire makers show that they recognize-and are seeking to address-the necessity of keeping their No. 1 customer profitable and strong.
Tire manufacturers and dealers each share a stake in the other's financial wellbeing.