NASHVILLE, Tenn.-1995 proved to be a banner year for the Firestone brand, which made gains in both unit volume and market share, according to company executives. Hopefully, according to Rick Bangs, new manager of Firestone consumer marketing, 1996 will be even better.
Nashville-based Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. has boosted its Firestone-brand sales by leaps and bounds since adopting its Family Channel dealer marketing program in 1992.
In 1993, one year after introducing the Family Channel, unit sales grew 20 percent over the industry average and continued with an additional 12 percent in 1994. Last year, the increase out paced the industry by about 14 percent, said John Gamauf, vice president of consumer tire sales.
BFS's total consumer tire market share has climbed about 2.7 percent since 1993, Mr. Gamauf told dealers during BFS' recent annual meeting.
The improvements can largely be attributed to a focus on Firestone product introductions and its commitment to the Family Channel, Mr. Bangs said, although Firestone has added points of sale at Sears, Roebuck and Co. and Montgomery Ward & Co.
The brand also is going through a testing program at Western Auto Supply Co., though no national roll-out plans have been released, Mr. Bangs confirmed.
Last year, Firestone introduced, among other tires, the Firehawk SS10 and the Affinity. Both tires were received by dealers and consumers at levels far exceeding BFS projections, Mr. Bangs said, adding successful introductions help build a strong manufacturer-distributor bond, he said.
``We have a lot more credibility with our distributor channels at this point,'' he said. Because of the number of introductions last year, Firestone focused a large portion of its marketing budget to boost sales to dealers, Mr. Bangs noted.
This year, however, the marketing program is going to place more emphasis on consumer sales, including improved point-of-sale materials, Mr. Bangs said.
The company also plans to release the Z-rated Firehawk SZ50, the F570 premium all-season passenger tire targeted at import vehicles and replacement versions of the Firestone Wilderness light truck tire.
The company will continue to pursue its ``product by channel'' strategy, which in most cases, provides ``premium, state-of-the-art products'' to the Family Channel first. As those products age, they are moved into other distribution channels.
But Mr. Bangs enters his first full year on the job at a time when industry observers believe the market is slowing. Forecasts call for a gain of about 2 percent.
``I'm hoping to do much better (in 1996),'' he said. ``That's the name of the game-improving on the numbers.''