MIAMI, Fla.—Searching the Internet can be as frustrating as . . . well, as frustrating as trying to understand a computer manual. Pick a search engine, type in the word ``tires'' and what you are likely to get is more than 10,000 Internet sites to choose from. For most people, that's too many—especially since the vast majority of those sites will have absolutely nothing to do with what they're interested in.
But a tire dealer and a Web wizard have joined forces to create an Internet site they say will solve that problem and, eventually, revolutionize the way tires are bought and sold worldwide.
In September, Guru Communications' Chris Heuer and Juan Carlos Bernal launched Tire.Net Inc. (http://tire.net) to provide a 24-hour access point to help people anywhere in the world who want to buy and sell tires.
Mr. Bernal, executive director of Tire.Net, said his service ``will make a major impact on the way tire wholesalers and dealers conduct business. Tire.Net will bring every part of the tire industry into the information age.''
Membership in Tire.Net is three tiered. Anyone can join the site for free by filling out a questionnaire—a procedure Mr. Bernal said is intended to weed out Web surfers, leaving only ``serious'' tire buyers.
Different payment levels, however, allow users to become associate or partner members. Associate users are given greater access to the site's data base; partners are able to add stock into the database and post selling data.
Once stock is posted, other dealers can log onto the site and see what tires are available and then make contact either by e-mail—or by more traditional means—to place an order.
Other areas of Tire.Net allow dealers to post listings of tires they are interested in, an area where manufacturers and wholesalers can post press releases, a member forum where dealers can post and answer questions, and a tire ``chat room'' where people can correspond, in real time, about tire-related matters.
In short, Mr. Bernal said he wants the site to be the first place anyone from the tire industry goes when they go on-line.
``The Internet is so big that everybody that gets into it gets lost,'' he said, referring to the vast number of sites already available. ``I think the Internet is going to come to a place where people will get to a (central) place where they can search'' for more specific information.
So all-encompassing is Mr. Bernal's concept of Tire.Net, that he said he would
like the company's data base eventually to contain listings of every tire dealer in the world.
These listings would then be ``linked'' so users could automatically connect to other sites of interest.
Currently, Tire.Net boasts 300 regular members and 15 paying members, he said. But those numbers are growing rapidly as Mr. Bernal and his team demonstrate their site at tire- and automotive-related trade shows.
In particular, wholesalers, most of whom already have their inventory on-line in some capacity, see immediate cost- and time-savings benefits, he said.
``I'm looking at the Internet in the tire industry as the fax (machine). At a point, people were reluctant. `If somebody wants to get a hold of me, let them call me,' (they'd say). Now, there are very few dealers that don't have a fax,'' Mr. Bernal said.
Crain News Serviceer David Shaw in London contributed to this report.