More and more in business you hear talk about the importance of building partnership relationships. This is not the same as having a partner in business with you whose name is signed next to yours on your company's income tax statement. It means that your suppliers or customers become partners with you in accomplishing your mutual goals.
This philosophy has invaded the trucking and tire industries, too.
Just last month, Michelin announced its desire for a partnership with independent dealers. The company plans on listening more to its dealers in order to become a better partner. This is a big change in its business culture.
Continental General Tire also met with its dealers and promised it would work at becoming its dealers' business partner. I'll bet you'll hear the same thing from the rest of the tire makers this year, too.
Tire dealers must be asking: ``Is this just a lot of hot air designed to fill annual dealer meetings?'' and ``If not, then why do they want to be partners?'' With regard to the commercial tire market, the answers are simple.
Due to the changing, competitive environment and tight margins in the trucking industry, fleet managers are devoting more attention and resources to hauling freight and are searching for new ways to handle maintenance, which consumes resources and distracts their focus from their customers and business opportunities.
As a result, they are outsourcing more and more of their vehicle maintenance rather than planning their operations around their own captive, costly, highly inflexible service and repair shops, staffed with high-priced technicians.
This movement to outsourced maintenance is growing at a rapid rate. And it includes tires.
To handle the tire maintenance problem, fleets are turning to tire manufacturers and tire dealers and asking them to become partners in maintaining their tires. This partnership can range from a simple program of providing the fleet with new tires and retreads already mounted on wheels to placing a person in the fleet's in-house tire shop in order to guarantee a specific cost per mile and taking over the complete function of maintaining the fleet's tires.
Each partnership arrangement is custom tailored to the fleet's needs and the capabilities of the service providers.
In this relationship, everyone benefits: The fleet reduces the cost of its tire maintenance and perhaps even improves its tire cost per mile; the dealer gets more service business and revenue; and the tire maker has a happy customer who will come back and purchase more tires that are performing well in the fleet. Everybody wins.
It's rare in life that you come upon a Win/Win/Win situation. But the tire companies recognize this one and want to jump on this opportunity. They, however, do not provide the services that the fleets need to make tire outsourcing happen. Only commercial tire dealers do. Therefore, they are as serious as a heart attack about becoming partners with commercial tire dealers and fleets.
There have been loads of successful partnerships. Rolls and Royce founded the prestigious British motor car company, and there were Proctor and Gamble; Packard and Hewlett; Laurel and Hardy, to name just a few.
Each of these individuals brought something to the partnership the other lacked. They needed each other's talents, knowledge, personality and capabilities to achieve their goals. On their own, they could not be successful. Neither can tire dealers, tire manufacturers or fleets.
The problem is that a partnership needs a high level of trust. In the tire industry, developing this trust appears to be a problem. It seems there is a long history of dealers lying to tire manufacturers and tire manufacturers lying to dealers. (And I was recently reminded that fleets have been known to lie to everybody!)
As a result, dealers are skeptical at the prospect of opening their arms and welcoming the tire manufacturer into their places of business, let alone as a partner.
I am reminded of a story about a man who was dying; his longtime business partner stood by his bedside. The dying man wanted to clear his conscience before he died and said: ``Ed, I need to tell you that I stole $50,000 a few years ago when you were out of the country.''
Ed said: ``Now Bob, this is no time to get into things like that.''
Bob said: ``And I also had an affair with your wife for over 10 years.''
Ed said: ``Bob, I don't want to get into this now. I've known about all these things for a long time. Why do you think I poisoned you?''
I'm sure this is what dealers are worried about. But times are changing. Business is changing. Customer demands are changing.
If you think you can continue to do business as you have in the past, forget it. Your fleet customers have changed and so have their needs.
In order to respond to them and provide them with what they need, partnerships must be formed, because neither a dealer nor a tire manufacturer can bring everything to the fleet it must have to survive.
A good partnership depends on good and frequent communication, as well as trust. By starting with communication, I am sure a trust relationship can be forged.
It's time tire dealers and tire manufacturers really started to talk with each other—not just at annual dealer meetings, where tire manufacturers talk to dealers, but on an individual basis, in which dealers take the opportunity to voice their legitimate concerns and viewpoints without fear of reprisal. This means that the ``partnership culture'' has to extend all the way down to the tire sales representative in the field who calls on dealers regularly.
The time is right for partnering. And there is so much that can be accomplished and won.