From a business standpoint, Goodyear's decision to close its Kelly-Springfield Tire Co. operations in Cumberland, Md., and merge them into its own makes good sense. What's harder to gauge is whether mammoth Goodyear can preserve Kelly's heritage of customer responsiveness once the integration is completed.
Clearly, the cost of maintaining a large company division in the mountains of western Maryland, far from Goodyear's Akron offices, had grown too great.
For years, the tire maker had supported and promoted Kelly as a separate company complete with its own manufacturing plants, sales force, marketing department and technical and financial operations.
The company even ran what amounted to daily airline service between Akron and Cumberland, shuttling executives back and forth for meetings and other functions.
Despite the apparent unwieldiness, the approach worked, with Kelly generating $1.4 billion in annual sales for its Akron-based parent.
But in today's tire industry, where cost-cutting and operating efficiencies have become major means of enhancing profitability, operating Kelly as a separate company was no longer economically feasible. Goodyear pulled the plug.
By September 1999, when Goodyear fully integrates most of Kelly's operations into its Akron headquarters, Kelly-Springfield, the tire company, will be no more.
Kelly will exist only as a brand within Goodyear and will become part of its new multi-brand marketing strategy.
But to the many customers of Kelly, including those who sell the Kelly brand and the company's associate and custom brands, the move carries personal significance.
Kelly-Springfield operated its business from a dealer-friendly perspective and competed openly with another firm that carries that same reputation—Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.
Kelly's employees in all segments, from sales to technical, strove to develop close, responsive relationships with customers.
Dealers knew the company's telecommunications operators so well that many sent flowers or candy to them on birthdays and anniversaries.
They also found Kelly's energetic president, Lee Fiedler, open and available.
These qualities—access, closeness, responsiveness—are difficult to quantify. But they've served Kelly well over the years.
Goodyear would do well to preserve these Kelly traits as it continues the integration of the Cumberland operations.