WASHINGTON-The U.S. Postal Service is one of the most aggressive, proactive agencies in the federal government as far as retreaded tire procurement is concerned. William E. Messitt, a vehicle maintenance analyst for the Postal Service, is well known for his advocacy of retreads as a reliable, economical and environmentally sound alternative to new tires.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Postal Service is a quasi-private government corporation, not bound by the Environmental Protection Agency directive to maximize retread procurement and the retreading of usable casings.
Furthermore, as in many government agencies, procurement contracts are issued regionally. Local procurement officers are often mired in old prejudices against retreads.
Therefore, it's up to individual retreaders to make themselves-and their products-known to procurement personnel at their local post offices.
Once tire buyers truly understand retread technology, they become eager customers, according to Penny Chung, general manager of Babek Commercial Tire Systems, Avenel, N.J.
For the past five years, Babek Tire has supplied retreads to Post Office fleets in Newark, Paterson, Edison and South Hackensack, N.J.
``What retreaders need to do is, if there's a contract, bid it,'' Ms. Chung said.
``But right now the Post Office procurement guidelines are not real clear. So it pays to send a sample of your tread rubber to the procurement officer, and extend an offer for him to come visit your shop.
``That's always a big hit, and it's the only way they'll learn about retreading.''
Although the resistance of procurement officers to using retreads fits no real pattern, according to Mr. Messitt, it is usually grounded in prejudice.
``Some of them say, `I'll never put retreads on any of MY vehicles!'*'' he said. ``They don't always know what a retread is. They think you file a tire down, put some Elmer's Glue on it and slap on the tread rubber.''
Fortunately, Mr. Messitt has been able to make inroads against this no-retreads disposition, with the help of organizations such as the American Retreaders' Association and the Tire Retread Information Bureau.
In 1992, the U.S. Postal Service bought 50,000 retreads, accounting for about 19 percent of its tire purchases that year. By 1994, the figure rose to 83,000 tires, or 30 percent of the total.
But the most effective efforts on behalf of retreading will always be made by retreaders themselves, according to Mr. Messitt. ``They will meet some resistance they may never be able to overcome,'' he said. ``But there's enough pliability out there that some folks will come around.''
Mr. Messitt cited Babek Tire as particularly successful in the Postal Service market. And Babek Tire followed the procedures Mr. Messitt said are most effective-a combination of personal contact and education.
Babek Tire got its first Post Office contract in Newark, and maintained a relationship with Newark Postmaster George Bopp, according to Ms. Chung.
``We weren't necessarily the lowest bidder,'' she said. ``But when we asked him to come to our retreading shop to show him what we do, we built up his confidence level.''
When the company solicited procurement officials at Paterson, Edison and South Hackensack, Babek Tire also invited them to visit the shop, with similar results.
Essentially, the Postal Service buys four types of tires for its fleet vehicles:
P185/75B14 and P205/75B15 sized tires for Jeeps;
LT195/75R14 sized tires for ``Long-Life Vehicles,'' the commonly used, white snub-nosed vans;
8R19.5 sized tires for two-ton vehicles; and
11R22.5 sized tires for seven-and nine-ton cargo vans and tractor-trailers.
At Newark, Babek Tire started by supplying the 8R19.5 tires, and worked its way into supplying the Long-Life Vehicle tires as well, according to Ms. Chung. But it began its service to the smaller post offices by supplying the LLV tires.
Currently, Babek Tire supplies 15 tires a week to Newark and 7-10 tires weekly to each of the other three locations, for a total of slightly more than 2,000 annually, Ms. Chung said.
``The people there are sold on retreads, and they're very happy with them,'' she said. ``There have been very few retread failures on the Postal Service vehicles so far.
``The only real problem so far is the integrity of the tire casings,'' she added. ``The percentage of RARs (rejected, returned as received-i.e. unusable casings) has been fairly high.
``But I understand that Bill Messitt plans to change the Postal Service specifications for the casings on new tires.''
Mr. Messitt could not be reached for comment on these new specifications.