For years the National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association has filled the roles of government lobbyist and administrator of dealer services. But in the coming years, it may also need to strengthen its role as publicity agent. Dealers would like to see more tire companies exhibiting at the annual trade show, more effective communication of the NTDRA's stable of member services and even a public awareness campaign for the tire industry.
NTDRA President James Faught pointed to the lack of tire makers at the association's trade show in the past as a major concern of members.
``They want two things: tire makers (at the show), and education and training,'' said Mr. Faught, owner of Northwest Tire & Service in Flint, Mich.
Mr. Faught said the first priority of the NTDRA is to beef up the exhibits. The NTDRA is pursuing the creation of a rubber/tire industry show week in an effort to address this concern.
The second important issue is providing effective and informative speakers for convention seminars. Surveys, he said, show training is the second most coveted service for dealers.
While tire makers offer their own training, it often is geared more toward how to sell their products. Dealers, Mr. Faught contended, need information on how to manage cash flow and boost productivity.
Dealers are concerned with day-to-day affairs of business, including maintaining market share. ``That's what the (member) services are for.''
But communicating the advantages of NTDRA services-which include management consulting, long-distance phone service, a credit card and health insurance-to members is a problem. ``The biggest deal is trying to get (the typical tire dealer) to open his mail,'' Mr. Faught said.
Brian Plank of OK Tire & Service Inc. in Eau Claire, Wis., agreed. He acknowledged the NTDRA provides a lot of services that members-including himself-don't take advantage of.
Printed brochures and newsletters touting services are too easily covered up by other mail on his desk, Mr. Plank noted. He suggested regional meetings, or even promotional videotapes, would more effectively convey messages to busy tire dealers.
Regional meetings were prevalent in the 1960s and '70s, according to Philip P. Friedlander Jr., NTDRA executive
vice president. But the rise of state and regional dealer associations led to disinterest in these meetings.
Mr. Friedlander said he hopes by the end of the century the NTDRA will increase the number of its field offices and, through them, organize regional educational meetings for dealers.
The NTDRA may unveil a new service later this year-a workers compensation insurance program.
``The biggest concern of any business is the growing cost of doing business,'' noted Steve Borst of Borst Oil & Tire Center in Schenectady, N.Y.
But Mr. Borst also saw a need for more training to help independent dealers compete in the market.
``The biggest concern I have is that more and more mass merchandisers are using tires as loss leaders,'' he said.
``The strong suit of independents is the professionalism we give to customers,'' Mr. Borst added. ``The NTDRA can emphasize it to independents by training and encouraging us as to what direction we can take.''
He noted that the association is making an effort in that direction. ``We got to pull up our boot straps and use services to compete,'' he said.
On a comprehensive scale, the tire industry's negative image is a ``critical'' concern, according to Melbourne, Fla.-based Mike Gatto Inc.'s Pamela Fitzgerald, the NTDRA's second vice president.
``The consumer has the wrong opinion that tires are not worth much money,'' she said, blaming discounters for helping shape that opinion.
Mr. Friedlander concurred that there is a need for an industry image campaign. But to implement such a campaign, ``you need all the aspects of the industry to get involved.''
If a combined tire industry show is forged with tire companies and other trade associations, ``it may set the stage for a public relations program,'' he said.
An industry image campaign could also help attract quality people to the industry, Ms. Fitzgerald said.
``The general public is unaware how much money can be earned in this business. People go for the glamorous jobs and end up making less,'' she said.
``I'd like to see the NTDRA promote employment opportunities in the field and education of young people,'' she added. ``There is no replacement for good people. If you do not have good people working for you, your business is not going to thrive.''