AKRON—The last time Goodyear checked its horoscope, it saw a new astrological sign in its future—Gemini. That mark soon will appear on the buildings of most of the tire maker's 1,750 independent Certified Auto Service (CAS) dealerships and 200 company-owned outlets.
Saying its 15-year-old CAS format is too generic, has outlived its usefulness and will be scrapped, Goodyear on June 17 took the wraps off its Zodiac-based replacement: ``Gemini Automotive Care.''
In star-gazing terms, Gemini means ``twins.'' Consequently, the new service format, built on the tagline ``The Next Generation in Auto Care,'' will focus on the ``twin pillars'' of tires and automotive service.
But rather than foist a Goodyear-conceived program on dealers, including G-110 franchisees, the company made a point of noting that Gemini was fashioned over the last 18 months ``by dealers for dealers'' by an ongoing national advisory board. The CAS 2000 board consists of 36 dealers representing 1,000 retail outlets nationwide, as well as Goodyear executives.
A gradual rollout of the new concept began last month and will continue through July and August, with an official consumer launch slated for Sept. 1.
Goodyear said it studied its auto service competitors closely, and from what it exhibited at an Akron press conference, borrowed liberally from them.
Gemini's signage of blue lettering on an elliptical oval of gold is at least reminiscent of Sears, Roebuck and Co.'s National Tire & Battery (NTB) logo, as are the ``customer education'' placards that will go up in the revamped Gemini stores' showrooms.
Sets of seven panels—covering topics such as belts and hoses, engine performance, wheel alignment, heating and air conditioning, suspension and brakes—explain ``what it does'' and ``what to expect from our service.''
A focal point of the service desk in a Gemini outlet will be a board listing repairs offered and accompanying prices—controlled by the dealer, not mandated by Goodyear.
A ``tire wall'' will exhibit brief descriptions and sizes for each tire line, designed to build trust by giving consumers enough information to make a choice, Goodyear said. For some tires, descriptive panels allude to such ethereal things as the ``Wrangler Experience.''
Stores will exude a ``warm and fuzzy'' feel through the prominent display of large ``lifestyle'' photos: plenty of smiling kids, a grandparent with child etc.
Among the objectives in rebranding CAS stores ``Gemini,'' are launching a new brand, building awareness of the tire and car care services performed, driving qualified upscale, brand-oriented customer traffic to the outlets, and ``exciting'' the store employees, who will have a choice of several uniforms they must wear, said Steve Schroeder, Goodyear's manager of trade marketing.
If the two dealers at the press gathering were any indication, Gemini is off the launching pad and arcing nicely.
Nick Mitsos, president of Mountain View Tire & Service Inc. in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., and Craig Arch, crew chief of the seven Bay Area Tire & Service Centers, based in Severna Park, Md., have been test-marketing different components of the Gemini program and said they can hardly wait to initiate the new concept.
The price for a dealer to renovate an existing auto center to Gemini standards will vary, Mr. Mitsos explained, ``depending on how far you want to go.''
He hasn't put a pencil yet to the cost of redoing his 20 stores, but a Goodyear executive estimated that a dealer might spend between $4,000 and $7,000 to redecorate a store's interior and exterior.
Goodyear admitted that, unlike competitors' auto care programs, its CAS format was never marketed cohesively on a national basis. It cited consumer research indicating CAS has only 2 percent consumer awareness, despite being 15 years old.
Faced with CAS wallowing while strong retail challengers such as NTB, Pep Boys, Midas and some car-dealer-operated repair shops upgraded their facilities and boosted marketing expenditures, Goodyear executives said a new, high-profile format was needed.
They indicated Gemini's hallmark will be ``creating unique relationships with customers through positive customer experiences.''
Mr. Schroeder noted CAS has some assets, but also carries some liabilities. For example, a variety of retailers use the name ``certified automotive service'' in their businesses, so Goodyear could not trademark the phrase.
He said the company and its dealer board decided a new moniker must be memorable, trademarkable, signal a change and be unique to the service category. It should also be a ``visionary'' name that can be used well into the future in order to cash in on the growing auto service market, currently estimated at $96 billion a year.
When asked whether or not to dump CAS, 60 percent of Goodyear retailers said it had to go, Mr. Schroeder said.
Marco Molinari, vice president of sales and marketing for Goodyear's North American tire business, said the company found it could no longer approach the market in a one-dimensional manner with one brand and one program.
Gemini stores must provide consumers enhanced products and services, he said, and deliver trust, quality and comfort to customers.
The rebadged stores will, for instance, offer a new nationwide warranty consisting of 12 months or 12,000 miles on some parts and repairs, national purchasing programs and expanded alliances with parts manufacturers.
To create a high level of consistency, annual audits of Gemini facilities will be performed.
About 1,800 of Goodyear's CAS retailers have signed on to the new program thus far, said Chuck Mick, vice president of dealer sales, North American Tire. The company's target is 3,000 or more when Gemini is in full orbit.
He acknowledged that dealer-and company-owned CAS outlets have always competedwith each other. ``They were probably more at odds with each other than they should have been,'' Mr. Mick said, ``and had occasionally attacked each other as tough competitors do.''
But in recent years, ``we have changed our outlook regarding how the two should operate.'' Though they may be neighbors, and will remain competitive and ``vigorously contesting for the customer dollar,'' he said Gemini will provide them with ``tremendous marketing tools'' to differentiate themselves from the competition.
Gemini is evidence, Mr. Mick continued, that Goodyear is committed to its dealer/store channel, which he called ``still our best channel to sell tires,'' accounting for more than 60 percent of all Goodyear's U.S. replacement tire sales.
To promote Gemini, Goodyear will spend about $14 million during the roll-out's first six months—63 percent allocated to advertising.
An advertising assault will be mounted through magazines, newspapers, TV and radio, tied to a database marketing effort and Gemini Website, all aimed at making Gemini ``the place that cares about people who care about their cars.''
By mid-July, dealers should begin receiving temporary banners, tire-wall graphics, service education panels, brochures, warranty point-of-sale materials, and a Gemini standards manual incorporating Maintenance Awareness Program (MAP) guidelines for ``required'' vs. ``suggested'' repairs.
Later on, they'll get static window display signs, an auto fluid display, a study/training guide and service menu boards.