LAS VEGAS-He's heard the noise. Probably voiced a few complaints himself over the years. Some of the gripemeisters' favorite ones roll right off his tongue:
It's so tough operating a small business-what has the National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association done lately for me? The NTDRA is unresponsive to its membership.
Its programs aren't tailored to regional or small-market dealers.
The NTDRA's trade show is dead, has nothing to offer dealers. And on and on.
Frankly, Ted Wiens Jr. simply doesn't understand.
And it's not because he isn't a bright man. After all, you don't get to where he is today, operating 11 successful tire and auto service outlets, without any smarts.
Maybe it's just that the NTDRA's president-elect has seen life from within the association as well as from out in the service bays, and doesn't agree with the critics' clamor. He places some of the blame squarely on the shoulders of his fellow dealers.
Easing his chair back a bit from the desk and mound of endless paperwork and mail he's been sorting, a fleeting look of exasperation darkened his chiseled features. ``These are things we've been talking about for years and years,'' he said, stroking his neatly clipped, salt-and-pepper beard.
``I don't know of a way to get the average tire dealer to understand the position he's in and the protection he needs from the federal and state governments, and quite a few other things.
``Just what the NTDRA does alone in the U.S. legislative process is worth the price of membership.''
He sounds like a guy who doesn't simply mouth party-line platitudes, but actually believes what he's saying. And being a tire dealer, he realizes how tough a sell some of his colleagues can be.
Many NTDRA members don't want to read about new programs or benefits. ``And if they do, it doesn't sink in,'' Mr. Wiens told TIRE BUSINESS earlier this year during an interview at the main office in Las Vegas of his Ted Wiens Tire & Auto Centers, a short roll of the dice from the gambling mecca's casino row.
The NTDRA ``can come up with the most dramatic programs to help independent tire dealers. But if they don't read them, pay attention to them and participate in them...,'' he continued, his voice trailing off.
``It makes you feel bad sometimes when participation on some things is so low, when you know they're good programs.''
``We've tried everything,'' from audio tapes to videotapes to mailgrams, he declared. Short explanations. Long explanations.
Then with maybe a tinge of resignation, he added: ``But getting some people to take advantage of it-nothing seems to work. It's like that old saying: `You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.'''
At age 49, one of the NTDRA's upstart ``young bucks,'' he looks like he'd be as comfortable in the saddle, busting a steed out in the desert outside this fast-growing city, as he is busting a tire.
Fact is, the tire business is pretty much all Mr. Wiens has known since he was about 8 and began working in a service station.
``I don't know what else I'd do. I've been a tire buster all my life,'' he said, grinning. One senses he hasn't really minded it much.
Though he's now in charge of the Wiens ``empire,'' his dad, Ted Sr., still gets around to most of the company's outlets every day, and ``likes checking on the construction of our new ones.''
Criticism to the contrary, Mr. Wiens doesn't believe the NTDRA has failed its members. Programs are well-researched, planned and approved by its full board, then implemented by dealer committees, he said. Still, ``not enough dealers take advantage of them.
``I frankly don't understand it. I don't know what the trick is to that communication problem.''
Mr. Wiens said he has attended every NTDRA convention since the early 1970s. ``I usually learned enough from one seminar, and meeting people there, to help my business and pay for the cost of the convention.''
He has served on the exhibitor host committee for the last couple NTDRA conventions, and has conducted post-show interviews with 18 exhibitors. For the most part, he said, ``everyone was pretty upbeat'' and had favorable assessments of the shows.
This year, Mr. Wiens finished a stint as chairman of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, where he focused on retainingmembership and gaining new members. He expects a similar agenda for the NTDRA during his presidency.
But there is that little matter of ongoing talks with the Louisville, Ky.-based International Tire and Rubber Association (ITRA) about a possible combined NTDRA-ITRA trade show/conference.
``This year, and going into next, we'll be working out the rough edges on how we're going to cooperate with the ITRA,'' Mr. Wiens said. He does see a joint show in the associations' future.
And ``it doesn't bother me. The only reason I don't go to the ITRA show is I don't do retreading. But a lot of people on both associations' boards (of directors) do.''
As attendance drops, ``tire manufacturers are tired of only seeing the same people at both shows.''
The automotive aftermarket faced a similar predicament several years back, he said, when four trade associations combined forces to establish the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Week (AAIW), the mega-shows now held annually in Las Vegas every fall.
Mr. Wiens acknowledged that neither the NTDRA nor ITRA wants to lose its autonomy. But both have similar programs and he claimed ``80 percent of the same people attend both shows. I'm surprised the manufacturers haven't complained about it before now.''
While the future of the independent tire dealer-and especially small dealerships-is an oft-debated subject, Mr. Wiens said he sees ``some of them growing quite rapidly, like us....I just wish everybody was having the same kind of growth. But I know they're not.''
Then donning his NTDRA officer's hat again, he returned to his favorite subject. ``In one way, I think it's strange that dealers won't participate in and pay attention to some of the programs available to them, and to some of the research that has already been done for them.
``It's not for (the NTDRA's) good; it's for their good-the general good. We get very little feedback. It's very strange.''
There's something else that strikes him as bizarre.
In order to be more responsive on the local level, several years ago the NTDRA established regional centers staffed by persons knowledgeable in the automo-tive industry. Their only job, Mr. Wiens pointed out, is to help independent dealer/NTDRA members.
And since doing that, ``we've noticed a funny trend:
``They call on about a half-dozen dealers a day,'' he said, ``and when they call, 75-percent of them, an awful lot of them are not there.
``What does that mean?
``I don't know. When we heard that statistic, we just kind of wondered, `Where are they?'
``Maybe they've given up and found something else to do. Or the business ranks (as a low priority.) Or they're so successful they're out playing golf or fishing.
``And then they moan about their business.''
The association ``always gets a lot of negative comments that we can't put together programs on a national basis because everyone is regional,'' he said. ``So we went to these regional offices.''
It's just another thing he doesn't quite understand.
``Sometimes we get those kinds of statistics, and we're not sure what to do with them.''
Ted Wiens Jr. stands outside his dealership's first Las Vegas store.
Tire Business photo by Sigmund J. Mikolajczyk