AKRON—Twice a year, many of Canada's tire dealers, especially in Quebec and Ontario, experience a tire-buying rush comparable to the frenzy retailers see during the Christmas shopping season. Consumers come in droves just before the bleak winter months to buy snow tires, then return in the spring to change their tires back to all-season radials. Between those time periods, tire sales slow to only necessary purchases.
"It's like a cannon going off," said John Webster, vice president of sales and marketing for Goodyear Canada Inc. "Once it starts, there's no stopping it, and it goes until everyone's exhausted and they collapse on the floor."
It is in this type of market, heavily influenced by a colder climate and a smaller population than in the U.S., that Goodyear Canada vies with its competitors for dominance.
Like its Akron parent, the Toronto-based subsidiary has kept itself busy in the marketplace. The firm is launching new snow tire lines for next winter, absorbing the operations of Dunlop Tires Canada Inc. and expanding its distribution channels.
Goodyear Canada already is looking ahead to next winter when it will offer the Goodyear Ultra Grip Ice, Dunlop Graspic and Kelly SnowTracker as its three-tier winter strategy, Mr. Webster said.
"I think in the Year 2000 our winter tire line-up is just going to be a shining star for us," he said.
The company particularly is excited about consumer demand for the Dunlop Graspic, which already has good name recognition among Canadians, Mr. Webster told Tire Business.
"We've seen pictures of (the Graspic). We've seen the size applications. This thing's nirvana," he said. "It's going to be outstanding for us in Canada, and in particular with some of those large accounts like Unimax (Tire Ltd.) in Quebec, where they just operate at breakneck speed and take huge quantities of winter tires."
Besides the Graspic line, Goodyear Canada has "lofty plans" overall for all Dunlop lines, Mr. Webster said.
The firm plans to reserve Dunlop for its independent dealers and keep it out of the Sears and Wal-Mart stores, he said. The brand had a good reputation among dealers for fill rates in 1999, and the company wants to continue ensuring its supply, Mr. Webster said.
Dunlop isn't the only means Goodyear Canada is relying on to increase sales and grow its market coverage. In 2000, mass retailer Canadian Tire Corp. Ltd.—which operates 430 outlets across Canada—will offer several Goodyear broadline tires, including Integrity, the Eagle GA and Wrangler RTS, Mr. Webster said.
The tire maker also has taken a distinctively different path in recent years in its dealer relations, compared with its Akron parent. Whereas Goodyear operates more than 600 company-owned stores in the U.S., Goodyear Canada chose to sell all 105 of its company-owned retail stores in recent years.
Canada's economies of scale demanded that the firm either grow to 250 or more locations or eliminate all of those stores, a Goodyear Canada spokeswoman said.
The tire maker also found that its company-owned stores, franchises and select dealers—those committed to selling 100 percent Goodyear products—were competing for its advertising and marketing dollars, the spokeswoman said.
"We're spread so thin in Canada that it's really tough for it to make economic sense to be in retailing," she said.
As a result, the firm decided to divest its company-owned stores and expand its reach by forming "partnerships" with independent retailers, the spokeswoman said. The company owns a 49-percent stake in Edmonton, Alberta-based Fountain Tire Corp., one of the major players in the western provinces with 132 stores.
In 1998, Goodyear Canada helped Coast Tire & Auto Service Ltd., a 100-percent Goodyear dealership, finance the purchase of Maritime Tire Ltd. in New Brunswick to solidify Coast as a dominant player in the Maritime provinces.
A year ago the firm purchased a 49-percent stake in Ontario-based Beverly Group Inc., a dealership with 24 outlets, and plans to make that company a dominant player in Ontario, Mr. Webster said.
All three of these "partners" carry Goodyear products exclusively and are "experts" in retailing, the spokeswoman said. As a result, Goodyear Canada doesn't need to provide these dealers sales support but can instead concentrate fully on supplying them efficiently, she said.
Following the recent sale of 12 Goodyear and York Tire stores to Fountain Tire, Goodyear Canada still operates 19 commercial tire stores, principally in Quebec.