LA CANADA, Calif.-Paul Bobzin's success as president of the National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association probably won't be properly judged for a number of years. That's because the ``meat'' of his term was marked less by concrete actions-investigating the possibility of a joint industry trade show-than by the more nebulous goals of ``direction,'' ``focus'' and ``image.''
``There isn't enough time in one year to do the things you want to do, but you can get them started,'' Mr. Bobzin said when asked his impressions of his presidential year.
It's not surprising Mr. Bobzin feels that way. The owner of La Canada Tire Center Inc. strikes you as a deeply devoted individual-the very type the NTDRA, fraught with apathetic members, might very well have needed this past year.
Mr. Bobzin inherited the presidency of an association that had slowly been losing support for its trade show.
``We have not stayed (as an association) on course with our communication with suppliers,'' he said.
In view of this and other challenges facing the association, Mr. Bobzin considers finding a replacement for the man who led the NTDRA through its last 42 years-Executive Vice President Philip P. Friedlander Jr.-his greatest accomplishment during the past year of his presidency.
Mr. Friedlander is retiring at year-end.
With painstaking care, Mr. Bobzin and a search committee labored for more than two years before chosing David E. Poisson-a man who, by his own admission, has no experience with tire and automotive service issues.
But that's not what's important, Mr. Bobzin insisted. People skills are.
``I think he will lead as a cooperative figure in the industry,'' Mr. Bobzin said.
``Cooperation'' among manufacturers, retailers and the many aftermarket associations is what's needed to make the entire industry more profitable, Mr. Bobzin said. Unfortunately, there hasn't been much cooperation in the recent past.
``My second-greatest (accomplishment) was to create a spirit of cooperation-of working together in the tire industry,'' he said.
Does that mean a joint industry trade show?
Not necessarily, he said.
``A joint trade show is very possible, but it's not so simplistic as some people said it would be,'' Mr. Bobzin added.
What is needed, instead, is a better understanding of what suppliers want from the trade show and, to a greater extent, the association as a whole, Mr. Bobzin said. To that end, the NTDRA agreed in June to have an independent research firm survey manufacturers.
From that study, he said, the association will have a greater understanding of how the trade show can benefit independent tire dealers.
``I think the tire industry should have one trade show, or it's own tire industry week,'' Mr. Bobzin said.
``More dealers are carrying more brands, and they are tired of having to go to three or four dealer meetings a year plus the NTDRA and (International Tire & Rubber Association) shows.''
The faltering NTDRA trade show is simply a sign that the association has lost touch with its members, Mr. Bobzin explained.
The lines of communication between the association and various parts of the aftermarket industry need to be reopened, he said. And that means a lot of work for Mr. Poisson and incoming NTDRA President Ted Wiens Jr.
But Mr. Bobzin said he believes that work at least has been started. He was able, for instance, to make headway toward his longtime goal of creating a rule-making body, ``not a governing body'' that would create a set of industry standards.
Consisting of ``high-level'' representatives from manufacturers, associations and major retailers, the group, as envisioned by Mr. Bobzin, would develop a set of standards to guard against shoddy practices like ``bait and switch'' advertising and the ``$6.95 tire.''
``There are some things in the industry that are hurting the image of the industry, and I think there's a way to fix it,'' Mr. Bobzin said.
``But I think everybody is so busy with their own business...that we forget our (industry) standards.''
Despite lacking such standards, the NTDRA last year created a number of programs that Mr. Bobzin said he believes will help independent tire dealers raise their image.
Chief among those programs is the association's new national automotive service warranty, available through the American Automotive Aftermarket Network Inc.
Under the program, NTDRA members can offer customers 12-month/12,000-mile coverage for parts and labor.
Consumers needing warranty service on their vehicles can return to the original dealer or any other in the country who is enrolled in the program.
The nationwide aspect of the warranty can help dealers build a more professional image among their customers.
On a local level, NTDRA members can participate in a new association promotional program, offered through Data National Corp., in which dealers can incorporate a database and in-store and direct-mail promotions in their marketing programs.
The NTDRA's lines of communication also must extend to automobile manufacturers if independent tire dealers hope to capitalize on the tremendous amount of service business leased cars now represent, he said.
``I have worked hard the last two years to develop a relationship with automakers,'' he said. Three automakers-Honda, Chrysler and Toyota-will be present at the NTDRA's Atlanta convention and trade show.
flow'' service business from used-car dealers who are becoming swamped with leased cars returns. It also might eventually result in a parts program for the tire industry, Mr. Bobzin said.
With his presidential year nearly complete, how confident is Mr. Bobzin that the association is on the right track?
``If all the tire dealers could have experienced what I experienced this year at NTDRA, and know what I know about NTDRA and the new direction of where the association is going, we'd have over 20,000 members,'' he said confidently.
Those dealers can't experience Mr. Bobzin's past year, but they can learn about the association's new focus.
Put simply, he said the NTDRA is going to communicate better with dealers, state associations and suppliers with ``a non-selfish spirit.''
``I'm very happy about the new direction. I think the NTDRA this year has refocused and redirected its efforts,'' he said.
Paul Bobzin lists hiring the NTDRA's new executive v.p. as his top accomplishment.
Tire Business photo by Greg Kennedy