The more complex the retail and commercial tire business becomes, the more secure independent tire dealers should feel about their future. This may seem contradictory. With so much change taking place in the tire and automotive service industries, some dealers may feel they can't keep pace and fear they're losing ground to competitors.
But just the opposite can occur.
Dealers often lament the increasing proliferation of tire sizes and types they must carry. They decry the need for increased expertise and specialized equipment to service today's vehicles. And they experience great difficulty employing qualified people in all aspects of the business.
But those demands are precisely the reasons tire dealers often succeed where less dedicated competitors founder.
Tire dealers, to borrow the slogan of the Ohio Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association, are—or should be—the ``People who know tires best.''
And it will take ``people who know tires and service best'' to satisfy tomorrow's demanding customer.
It's difficult to imagine outlets without dedicated professionals appreciating the need to match tires on all-wheel- or four-wheel-drive vehicles in order to prevent them from damaging drivetrains.
Nor can we foresee such outlets conveying to customers why they need to replace an entire set of tires when some on the vehicle may still have usable tread.
To do so effectively will take knowledgeable professionals able to explain why such action is needed.
The lack of size interchangeability among brands, reported on in this issue, is a relatively new concern, heightened by the growing popularity of all-wheel- and four-wheel-drive vehicles.
However, it's the type of service issue that sets dealers apart from less knowledgeable tire installers.
Successful tire dealerships in the future will promote themselves as experts capable of trouble-shooting any tire-related driveability problem.
They will purchase the specialized equipment needed to service tomorrow's vehicles.
They will train employees to use this equipment in solving unusual tire-related problems.
And they will develop skills in communicating effectively with customers.
That's a heady list of what it will take for dealers to compete successfully in the next millennium.
Rather than running scared, dealers should take comfort in the growing complexity of tire and automotive service. It's what will set them apart from the competition.
The challenge is great, but so is the opportunity.