TORONTO-Canada's largest tire retailer announced it is involved in a test marketing program that could prompt Canadian Tire Corp. Ltd. to sell Goodyear, Michelin and Pirelli name-brand tires nationwide. The test program, which began in March, could have a major effect on small independent tire dealers across Canada who might soon find themselves in direct competition with the 423-store retailing giant.
Under the program, three Canadian Tire stores in Kitchener, Ontario, and one in Waterloo, Ontario, are selling the following brand-name tires: Goodyear Ventura, Spectra, Eagle RH and Wrangler HT and RTS; Michelin XW4, XZ4 and XB-T4; Uniroyal Laredo AWT; and Pirelli P300 and P600.
Previously, Canadian Tire sold only its Motomaster brand tire, which is manufactured by Kelly-Springfield Tire Co. and Michelin.
``This company was founded on the sale of tires,'' said Glenn Root, senior director of tires and service. ``It makes great sense that we become the tire specialists with a comprehensive selection and competitive prices.
``Our research tells us customers want three things when they buy their tires: a good selection, great price and great service,'' Mr. Root continued. ``With this program, Canadian Tire delivers on all three.''
The four participating stores have created designated tire-installation bays to help meet the company's guarantee that customers get ``in and out in 59 minutes or tire balancing is free.'' Employees also have been ``specially trained'' on the new products.
Toronto-based Canadian Tire said it chose the Kitchener-Waterloo market to test the program because the area exhibits ``tire purchasing habits in-line with the national average'' and it is in close proximity to its company's headquarters.
Canadian Tire tried unsuccessfully to sell name brand tires through a similar program four years ago. That program was canceled when sales fell short of preset goals because the company failed to market it effectively.
This year, however, the company is supporting the test with radio, television and newspaper advertising.
The company also said it will match the prices at other dealerships and extend the same warranty that it offers on Motomaster tires to the national brands, including free installation, rotation and brake and shock inspection every 10,000 kilometers and free flat repair.
Although the program is in its early stages, some dealers in the Kitchener-Waterloo area are unhappy with their suppliers.
``Yes (our dealers) have complained,'' a Michelin spokeswoman said. ``We think it's quite natural. Nobody likes to see additional competition in their marketplace.''
But she added Michelin dealers in the area understand the company's position. Michelin, she said, intends to provide its independent dealers with its full product line. New products also will be introduced through independent dealers.
``We see that the tire business is really making a big shift from independent tire dealers to warehouse clubs. . . We think in Canada, really, that this evolution is driven by the consumer. They are changing the way they buy.
``As a manufacturer, we need to follow that very carefully,'' she said.
Goodyear Canada also said it does not intend on turning its back on its independent dealers should the program be expanded.
``Our plan is to limit participation to unique product lines that do not conflict with the existing Goodyear products that we provide to our independent dealer network and our company-owned stores,'' a Goodyear Canada spokesman said.