CHARLOTTE, N.C.—Dennis DeLeonard, director of marketing at Continental General Tire Inc., said he has taken the ``final steps'' in assembling a marketing team that will focus on rejuvenating CGT's relationship with its independent dealers. ``My goal for the marketing group,'' Mr. DeLeonard said, ``is to have a lot of contact with dealers to truly understand their needs.''
To that end, CGT has named Eric Leboucher as market planning manager and Tom Garcia, product planning manager.
Mr. Leboucher, most recently market manager for Newell International, joins CGT with 10 years of international marketing and product planning experience.
Mr. Garcia is an 11-year veteran of CGT with a background in product line development.
Mr. DeLeonard said the two men will consult with dealers and distributors. ``I want these guys to have a real safe-cracker's feel when it comes to analyzing what the market needs, what the customer needs,'' he said.
The two men will be watching product lines and SKU movement, he said, and monitoring how products are selling compared with data on tire sales from the Rubber Manufacturers Association.
He said the diverse backgrounds of these men and others in marketing at CGT have created a ``significant team with great experience, background and drive.''
``More than anything, the battle of the tire business is won through your points of sale and the loyalty and support of your dealers and distributors,'' Mr. DeLeonard said.
Next year CGT will formally launch an associate dealer program called the ``Gold Program.'' Mr. DeLeonard said this program will help regional wholesale distributors help the dealers they service by providing things like point-of-purchase displays and product literature for dealer showrooms.
Unlike Michelin North America's Alliance program, CGT's ``Gold Program'' dealers will not be required to sell a certain percentage of CGT products as part of their total sales, he said.
``We're doing business with independent business people, who need to make up their mind and will make up their mind regardless of who gives them an edict or tries to force something,'' Mr. DeLeonard said.
Technology, he said, also will play a part in CGT's added emphasis on relations with its dealers.
Starting in January, CGT's account executives will be equipped with laptop computers containing proprietary software called ``MOSUS''—Mobile Office System U.S.
Each portable computer will be equipped with a wireless modem allowing account executives in the field to retrieve information—such as a client's sales history—or instantaneously feed customer information to the home office in Charlotte from almost anywhere. Mr. DeLeonard said about 1,000 Continental sales people in Europe are already using this system.
Mr. DeLeonard was with American Car Care Centers Inc. for five years before joining CGT in late 1996. He said one phenomenon of the tire business in this decade has been the emergence of large dealer groups like ACCC.
He acknowledged CGT had shifted its emphasis in the mid-1990s to wholesale dealers and shoppers clubs at the expense of the dealer channel.
``We've had to earn back the respect of key dealers,'' he said. ``Our approach is by having a good program and good products, you're going to garner more of a dealer's business.''
He said CGT's decision to add 19 sizes to the Ameri.GS4 line—more than doubling the number of sizes to 36—was an example of the company listening to its dealers.
The Ameri.GS4 becomes a broadline product capable of supporting about 90 percent of the U.S. passenger market, according to CGT planners. They project a 75-percent increase in sales for that line in 2000.
CGT also plans to introduce a new line of sport-utility-vehicle tires in mid-2000, Mr. DeLeonard said. This new SUV line will consist of four designs: utility, for commercial applications; tuning, for plus-sizing and sporty applications; extreme traction, for mud and snow; and a road tire, for drivers who want the same kind of quiet ride and durability from their SUV tires that they expect from passenger car tires.
Mr. DeLeonard said the road tire will be attractive to drivers for whom ``off-road means going over the grassy strip on the interstate.''
He said one of the marketing department's new staff members will have a unique perspective on that product. Mr. Garcia was a project engineer working on the development of that line.
``Now, he's on the marketing side and part of his job will be to roll out that product,'' Mr. DeLeonard said.