RICHMOND, British Columbia—SmarTire Systems Inc. is launching a marketing campaign to sell its tire pressure monitors to consumers through direct mail and the Internet. The campaign, called SmarTire-Direct, will begin in April and target car enthusiasts and recreational vehicle owners, said Gary Schlachter, executive vice president of marketing and sales for SmarTire's subsidiary, SmarTire USA Inc.
``We realize that a direct consumer model in today's retail trade, and especially on the Internet, is something you have to make a part of your business plan,'' he said. ``It's a high-tech way of doing business, and since we're a high-tech product manufacturer, we need to do that.''
SmarTire is aiming for those niche markets because auto enthusiasts care about protecting their expensive high-performance tires and custom wheels from damage, he said, while RV owners want to prevent flats to protect their cargo.
Ultimately, SmarTire wants to market its monitors as necessary accessories for all tires, not just run-flats, Mr. Schlacter said.
``We want to make people aware of the fact that tire pressure monitoring is available for their car,'' he said. ``It complements their vehicle's existing instrumentation package.''
The tire pressure monitor maker plans to advertise its products with full-page ads in AutoWeek, Road & Track and selected RV publications. Consumers can call a toll-free number to inquire or place an order, then have the monitor shipped to them, he said.
Starting in April, motorists also can log on to www.smartire.com and order a monitor online. The Web site will feature product information, a list of ``certified SmarTire installers'' and an interactive product demonstration.
Initially, SmarTire will offer the pressure monitoring system currently on the market, but then expand the offering to include new products, such as its Pressure Alert system, which is due out early this year, Mr. Schlachter said.
Along with the monitor, SmarTire will ship an $80 coupon for free installation that can be redeemed at any SmarTire installer, he said.
He declined to disclose how much monitors sold directly to consumers will cost, but acknowledged: ``We're going direct primarily to keep the price down to a level that we can sell in appreciable numbers.''
Installers, in turn, will receive reimbursement from SmarTire, discounts off the monitor, additional traffic through their stores, and opportunities for add-on sales, according to Mr. Schlachter. Dealers also can boost their technological image by carrying the monitors.
``We'd like to think retailers that associate themselves with technology like ours are demonstrating their cutting-edge approach to the market,'' he said, ``and will make themselves that much more distinguished as a service provider.''
However, Barry Steinberg, president and CEO of Direct Tire and Auto Service in Watertown, Mass., said he is disappointed with SmarTire's decision to sell directly to consumers, but not surprised since run-flat tire sales have been ``a bust.''
``They really have to make some money on (the monitor),'' Mr. Steinberg said. ``They have to go around the dealership to sell a product directly, but that no one wants. If this product was that great, wouldn't 35,000 dealers across the country sell it?''
Direct Tire will honor a customer's coupon for free installation, but Mr. Steinberg said SmarTire's direct campaign is just another example of a manufacturer bypassing the independent dealer.
``Once again, it takes us out of the loop,'' he said. ``What about the profit center (on run-flats) we were promised?''
SmarTire already is establishing a network of North American dealers who will participate in its installation program. The company signed Sears Auto Centers and National Tire & Battery (NTB) on Feb. 8, a move that gave the firm 1,100 outlets. SmarTire now has approximately 2,300 installers.