AKRON—In the highly competitive tire industry, private brand marketers are finding that replenishing dealers' supplies rapidly is the key to staying competitive. To ensure that goal, many are turning to technology—in this case, computerized order-entry systems—to speed up delivery and create an efficient operation.
``I think that's going to be one of the distinguishing aspects that's going to separate the survivors from the non-survivors—a technology-based environment,'' said Dan Brown, senior vice president of sales and marketing for J.H. Heafner Co. Inc. ``If you're not a part of that, it's just a matter time before you're no longer going to be in the ball game.''
In December 1996, Heafner launched a Windows-based electronic ordering system called HeafNet. Though not Internet-based, HeafNet is accessible through a dial-up modem and provides dealers access to inventory information, current balances, receivables and payables, invoices and tire and wheel-fitment information, Mr. Brown said.
``(HeafNet) offers an ease of doing business that we don't think they can find in their relationship with other dealers or other distributors at this point,'' he said. ``Today it's all about time, efficiency and speed.''
Through HeafNet, the company can cover 95 percent of customer orders in 24 hours or less, Mr. Brown estimated. In metropolitan areas, dealers who order tires in the morning usually receive deliveries later that day, while rural-area dealers receive their orders the next day, he said.
About 1,000 of Heafner's East Coast dealers use HeafNet, Mr. Brown said. The firm is still in the process of connecting its West Coast dealers.
So far, Heafner has received positive feedback from its dealers about the system even though some were reluctant to use it initially, he said. The company continues to modify HeafNet software and plans to eventually make it Internet-based.
Del-Nat Tire Corp. has about two-thirds of its members on an online service called Interakt, which allows dealers to look up Del-Nat's inventory, place an order, and print out receipts, according to Don Helker, the firm's vice president of marketing.
Memphis, Tenn.-based Del-Nat developed this computerized order-entry system to keep up with the tire industry's changing technological environment.
``The independent tire dealer is becoming much more sophisticated in the way he does business...and we need to provide them exactly what they're looking for,'' Mr. Helker said.
Interakt is set up by Del-Nat. Members can only access the company's site through a password, which is automatically deleted if they leave Del-Nat.
With Interakt, Del-Nat members can print out the cooperative's price sheets, eliminating the need for mailing, Mr. Helker said. Catalogs also are accessible, via the site.
A dealer can see which tires Del-Nat has in inventory and inquire when a certain product will be available. Orders sent by 2 p.m. are shipped the next day, according to Mr. Helker.
In addition to product and price information, Del-Nat communicates to its members through the electronic service with bulletin boards featuring special offers, he said. The co-op's Delta and National members can receive updates on new products and other company correspondence.
The program is still fairly new. Most of Del-Nat's dealers signed up for Interakt in the past year, and the rest are expected to join by the summer.
``It's working extremely well,''Mr. Helker said. ``I don't know what we did without it.''
Hercules Tire & Rubber Co. and Big O Tires Inc. both are developing electronic order-entry systems for their customers.
Hercules is waiting to complete a 400,000-sq.-ft. master distribution center in Findlay, Ohio, by May 1 before it implements such a program, said Steve Buck, vice president and general manager of the tire division.
Treadways Corp., which does business as Sumitomo Tire (U.S.), is in the process of ``dramatically'' updating its computer system to make it easier for customers to order the slate of private brands the company markets through its various holdings. These include Jetzon/Telstar Tire and Laramie Tire Distributors Inc.
The company has a launch date of July 1 for all its companies, said Dan Wire, Treadways president and CEO. At that date, Treadways will have an operational Web page and will shortly thereafter be able to offer online information and ordering via the Internet, though the system will evolve and be fine-tuned over time.
The firm eventually will have the ability to provide an electronic data transfer link with its suppliers and customers, he added.
Englewood, Colo.-based Big O, a subsidiary of TBC Corp., is working to have an as yet unnamed electronic order service ready by summer, according to Executive Vice President John Adams.
Big O dealers would log onto a company Web site and use passwords to access it.
Big O's system would provide for dealers to set up a standard inventory level based on what they sell each day, Mr. Adams said. After the business day's close, an order can be sent to Big O's site. The company's computer system then logs into and processes the orders.
Like the other companies, the firm is creating an order-entry system as a way of cutting costs as well as keeping up with the rest of the industry, he said.
``I think as a management, we feel that to move forward in any business, the price to get into the game is to lower your transaction costs in order to compete effectively,'' Mr. Adams said.
``If we don't do that, our competition is going to.''
Reporter Sigmund J. Mikolajczyk contributed to this report.