MIAMI BEACH, Fla.—The numbers are mindboggling. Five years ago, electronic commerce, in which people buy things over the Internet, didn't exist. Today, it is an $8 billion industry.
Three years from now, some believe sales will explode to $330 billion.
To ensure their long-term success, tire dealers must embrace emerging technologies, such as the Internet, as well as other changes and advancements taking place in the tire industry, said Wayne Croswell, president of software developer ASA Tire Systems.
Doing so, he explained, means ``future-proofing'' your business—that is, making decisions today that can protect your business in the future.
Future-proofing requires looking at all areas of the business, such as training, the products sold, marketing plans and technology employed to guard against the possibilities of failure, lost market share or eroding profits.
``Each of these and many more are key elements that play into the outcome of your business and its success,'' he said. ``Successful companies plan these elements well and look toward the future and make educated guesses as to what changes will come. They then make plans and execute them according to their business plan.''
Speaking to 250 tire dealers and suppliers at the Tire Association of North America's OTR (off-the-road) Tire Conference in Miami Beach Feb. 18, Mr. Croswell said dealers must make decisions today to avoid having to play catch-up tomorrow.
``You must be willing to accept change and take chances,'' he said. ``You must be willing to agree that business as we know it today will be radically different tomorrow.''
Mr. Croswell pointed out how quickly consumers have embraced the Internet.
To date, ``the Internet is the fastest technological advancement to be accepted, and I am sure it will not be the last,'' he said.
It took only six years before the Internet had 10 million users, Mr. Croswell said. The telephone, by comparison, took 38 years to reach that level. Fax machines, meanwhile, required 21 years, cell phones 10 years, VCR's 9 years and personal computers 8 years.
By 2000, projections call for 500 million people using the Internet and more Web addresses than their are people in the world, Mr. Croswell said.
``I believe the Internet will play a key role in our lives for quite some time,'' he said. ``More and more business will be conducted over the Internet.''
Dealers need to plan how they can get their share of that electronic spending and look for how technology can give them a business advantage, Mr. Croswell said.
Today, technology enables consumers to use the word ``tires'' to search the Internet for information. They can find out what size fits their car and select specific brands.
They can click on their driving styles and have the system tell them which brands fit their needs. They can find out the costs involved and the locations of stores that sell them. Then, electronically, they can arrange for an appointment and confirm it with a credit card or cyber cash.
As for commercial dealers, they want customers to be able to gain access to their inventory and to place orders, Mr. Croswell said. They want them to have access to statistical data on vehicle repair and fleet efficiency when they want it.
``The Internet is an economical way to let virtually limitless customers place business with you,'' he said. ``It's like having your office open 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.''
Customers want to do business where it's convenient, Mr. Croswell said. ``You should focus on making it easy for your customers to buy and focus less on how easy it is to sell to them.''
Also look for partners to align with who can provide you with the capabilities you need to be successful.
``You need tools that continue to give you access to what you want when you want it,'' he said. ``Future-proofing your business is a key to growth and success.''