It's not just the tire business that's changing rapidly, as the following column illustrates. No one has any idea what's going on in the retail car business today. Car companies and independent companies and all sorts of other folks are getting their foot or leg or whole body in the door.
But I don't know anyone who has any real idea as to just what's going on in retailing.
Ford Motor Co. seems intent on getting into the retail business big time during the next decade or so, but the results so far are cloudy. Chairman Alex Trotman thinks Ford should control the dealerships in a lot of major markets. Just how many markets is unknown now, but it will affect those Ford and Lincoln Mercury dealers.
Ford's retail networks very well might include Mazda as well, and sometimes Jaguar and perhaps even Aston Martin. The role of the independent dealer in Ford's future looks iffy at best.
General Motors Corp. executives long have wanted more control over the retailing experience. They're just not quite so aggressive about acquiring dealerships.
DaimlerChrysler seems the most content with the existing distribution system. Improve it, of course, but the company doesn't seem to have plans to make radical changes beyond Mercedes-Benz's desire to cut out price negotiations.
Of course, there are still the AutoNations that continue to acquire car dealerships aggressively and will affect the business for a long time.
So what's going on in the retail business? Nothing and everything. Will the retail business be a safe place for the next decade or so?
If you're in a major market, your business is going to change dramatically.
If you're a dealer in a smaller market, you probably can sit back and watch the fireworks because it'll be a long time before anybody gets to you. But you still might feel a little fallout.
Nothing much changed in the retail business for the first 90 years, but changes in this decade are making up for those years of inactivity.
No one knows what's going to happen tomorrow, but I sure wouldn't want to be the National Automobile Dealers Association these days. Just whom do you represent? It wouldn't surprise me to see a couple of organizations emerge in the next century: large-market members and small-market members. But things sure are getting interesting and uncertain.
Mr. Crain is chairman of Crain Communications Inc., which publishes Tire Business.