BLOOMINGTON, Ill.—Bridgestone/Firestone OffRoad Tire Co. (BFOR) has opened a 3,000-sq.-ft. training center adjacent to its off-the-road tire manufacturing plant in Bloomington, Ill. BFOR said the facility, which cost about $500,000 to construct, incorporates the latest technology. The company is using the center to train BFOR's sales force, dealers and customers—including representatives of original equipment manufacturers and large construction companies which use equipment shod with the company's tires.
The center also has a museum displaying Firestone-brand products from the past, outboard motors and spark plugs, for example, and a display of mining paraphernalia including a mining train.
``We want (attendees) to physically smell and see and touch the tire components,'' said Doug Snyder, BFOR senior field engineer and one of the trainers. So all courses include a tour of the plant along with an extensive orientation to tire technology, design and manufacturing.
Mr. Snyder said training courses run three or four days in length with content varying according to the group. A typical class has about 16 people. He said about 40 dealers have completed sessions since the first class was held in July.
Each session begins with an introduction by a nearly 2-foot tall ``talking tire.''
The plastic animatronic device, which combines computer and video technology, made its initial appearance for the tire maker in 1996 at a mining trade show. A live operator controlled it while interacting with attendees.
The talking tire's message now is recorded, but Mr. Snyder said the moving eyes and mouth are a great attention-getter.
The first day of training concludes with presentations on sales techniques and get-acquainted activities for attendees.
The second day includes a session on radial and bias tire construction followed by an extensive plant tour. Since both types of tires are made at the facility and marketed by BFOR, Mr. Snyder said sales personnel and dealers need more training about the company's product lines and how to sell them.
Classes on the third day include more information on tire technology, comparisons of Bridgestone and Firestone tires with competing products, and tire selection. The final day includes examinations of damaged tires to illustrate various problems, and tours of the technical center and warehouse.
``Over the years, a lot of these people have been thrown into their jobs and have not really had a background in the tires they're trying to sell and service,'' Mr. Snyder said.
The program's major purpose, he explained, is to help employees and dealers do a better job of selling BFOR products, as well as educating users about selecting the proper tire for an application.
BFOR's Bloomington plant produces about 20,000 tires per month, encompassing about 400 different SKUs. That includes the world's largest tire—measuring 153 inches in diameter, 5 feet in width and weighing 14,000 pounds.
Mr. Snyder said the tonnage volume the plant produces each month has tripled since Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. acquired the facility in 1994 and created BFOR as an off-road operating unit.
The Bloomington facility is the tire maker's only plant outside of Japan that manufacturers Bridgestone-brand off-the-road radials, he said.