ATLANTA-``The time for `Monday morning quarterbacking' and taking potshots at NTDRA is over.'' With those words, Paul Bobzin declared a new era for the National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association, besieged with criticism in recent years due to declining attendance at and interest in its annual convention and trade show.
In his final address as NTDRA president Sept. 7 during the association's convention in Atlanta, Mr. Bobzin spoke expressively of the profound changes taking place in the retail tire marketplace, changes that he said are dictating how tire dealers-and the association itself-must operate in the future.
``Our customers are looking for value,'' he told the 500 tire dealers and suppliers attending the ``Breakfast with the President.'' ``They no longer want just our tires. They also want new services that will go along with our tires.''
In such an environment, dealers can't continue to operate as if nothing has changed. Otherwise, ``We'll be bankrupt in no time,'' said the owner of La Canada Tire Center Inc., in La Canada, Calif.
To succeed in the new retail marketplace, dealers must recognize that their customers want more from them than the replacement of their tires. They want all their motoring problems solved.
``What that means is that we're going to have to create alliances with manufacturers and suppliers in other industries, including especially those in the automobile industry,'' he said.
Just as dealers need to respond to industry change, so must the NTDRA, Mr. Bobzin stated.
``We need to ask ourselves: `What are we going to do to improve the NTDRA and the tire industry?'
``Because if we don't take it upon ourselves to improve NTDRA, and if we don't take it upon ourselves to improve the tire industry, nobody else is going to do it for us.''
Many dealers have told him they feel the association is ``out of touch'' and doesn't reflect their needs and concerns, he said. As such, the NTDRA has ``to challenge all of our old assumptions about the best way to do everything.''
A symbol of such change is in the works. The association's board of directors has approved a recommendation opening up the election process for NTDRA officers.
Beginning next year, candidates for NTDRA office will be nominated by a committee consisting of representatives of every membership sector. That will allow greater participation on the part of every member, Mr. Bobzin said.
Beyond that, the NTDRA must look at its relationship with other tire industry associations, including state and regional dealer groups, as well as in allied industries.
Mr. Bobzin said he has talked with a number of state and regional associations about ways the NTDRA can work with them to improve conditions in the marketplace. Such collaboration might include unified dues structures, coordinated membership services programs, shared lobbying resources and joint sponsorship of regional trade shows.
``We are actively seeking opportunities to work together,'' he said, ``rather than allowing ourselves to grow apart.''
The NTDRA also needs to ``reinvigorate'' its relationship with all segments of tire manufacturing.
This includes reviving the annual meetings the association used to hold with tire makers, Mr. Bobzin said, ``not to point fingers or to lay blame, but to explore together how we can make this a more profitable business for manufacturers and retailers alike.''
He added: ``I firmly believe that there is no way tire dealers can be successful without the support of tire manufacturers.''
During his speech, he paid tribute to Philip P. Friedlander Jr., the NTDRA's executive vice president who is retiring after 42 years. Much of the association's success during that period can be attributed to his wise and dedicated leadership, Mr. Bobzin said.
He then challenged Mr. Friedlander's successor, David Poisson.
``We now look to you to provide inspiration and new leadership,'' he said. ``We expect great things from you and look forward to working with you to make this an even greater industry than it is today.''