LAS VEGAS—Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. executives told dealers attending the company's annual Bizcon 4 commercial tire conference it will continue boosting production capacity to improve fill rates and enhance dealer training by setting up five regional training centers. These and other measures reflect BFS' strong commitment to independent dealers, they said.
"We remain dedicated to the concept that the fleet end-user drives the commercial market," BFS Chairman Masatoshi Ono said, "and the independent commercial dealer services the fleet better than the alternative."
Citing figures from Tire Business' sister publication Rubber & Plastics News, Mr. Ono said Bridgestone Corp.'s worldwide sales increased 10.4 percent from 1997 to 1998, outpacing its two largest competitors—Group Michelin and Goodyear.
The company's financial strength and market position, he said, will allow it "to seek market leadership in every market and in every country in which we compete."
Mr. Ono and other BFS executives outlined the firm's plans to 565 dealers and more than 300 guests attending Bizcon 4, held Nov. 1-2 in Las Vegas parallel to the International Tire Expo/Specialty Equipment Market Association Show.
Subtitled "Solutions 2000," Bizcon 4 presented dealers with an array of "solutions for growth and profitability," such as presentations on product availability, retreading, industry consolidations and competition.
John Lampe, president of Bridgestone/Firestone Tire Sales Co., said that in 1998 BFS received more patents and invested more in capital improvements than Michelin and Goodyear, and also has taken significant steps to improve supply and reduce backorders.
These steps include an expansion of medium truck tire production at its Warren County, Tenn., plant by about 600,000 units per year, and the ramping up of its new passenger and light truck tire plant in Aiken County, S.C., which will be producing 25,000 units daily by next year.
Still, Mr. Lampe predicted, there won't be enough capacity to satisfy demand completely.
Singh Ahluwalia, vice president of commercial sales, said the company has doubled production capacity for the M276 truck tire since the beginning of 1999, cutting the number of units on back order to about 1,000 from 60,000.
Several dealers attending Bizcon agreed BFS' fill rates on medium truck tire shipments have improved.
John Stevens of New England Truck Tire Centers Inc. in Hudson, N.H., said he has seen his fill rate double since early 1999.
Fellow dealer Jim Myers of Transport Tire Inc. in Las Vegas agreed the fill rate's been bad, "but they're trying to fix it."
Nick Vuko of Walker Tire Co. in Lincoln, Neb., also thought the meeting's emphasis on fill rates was positive. "They're (BFS) going after the right thing," he said.
Observing that 1999 has seen "huge global changes within our industry," Mr. Ono cited the increased number of alliances taking place among tire makers. Their purpose, he said, is to drive down operating costs because of global competition.
This consolidation trend is certain to continue among manufacturers, Mr. Lampe said, with the increased debt affecting the performance of companies involved.
Both executives said BFS will respond to this challenge by investing more in product development, taking a long-range, rather than "quarter-to-quarter," approach to business, and remaining committed to the independent dealer.
In technology, BFS announced the selection of Atlanta-based iFleet Inc. to manage on-road tire repair assistance transactions.
Thad Eidmann, iFleet president, said within 90 days his firm hopes to demonstrate a "seamless network" to link customers and dealers using the World Wide Web.
iFleet and BFS will be looking for 25-30 dealers nationwide to administer a program called Breakdown Manager. It will enhance fleet management programs and provide "the most advanced on-demand and scheduled tire services in the industry," he said.
Responding to dealers' needs for training, Don Strief, BFS manager of training and development, announced the formation of five new training centers at existing BFS distribution centers in Allentown, Pa., Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas and Ontario, Calif. Each will have a conference room equipped with audio-visual tools and the tire maker will expand the number of training modules and seminars offered.
BFS will release the schedule of one- and two-day programs for 2000 by Dec. 15.
Mr. Strief said the company will continue to offer its Commercial Tire Consultant Seminars as well as a "reshaped" Bridgestone/Firestone Truck Tires (BFTT) commercial sales competition. A new "Grand Masters" sales competition will be unveiled in next year's first quarter, he said.
While Mike Fujimura, president of BFTT, noted that "retreading is a major cash cow for most of the dealers here," Mr. Ahluwalia asked dealers to be patient, saying BFS is studying the retread market and would respond "immediately with the full resources and power" of BFS' global resources" if its current market share or distribution network is threatened.