TORONTO—Tire dealers may want their suppliers to focus on them as their primary means of distribution, but manufacturing executives on a recent panel in Canada spoke of the importance of offering tires to customers wherever they shop. "Our true focus is to serve our customers," said Wayne Barnes, president and CEO of Goodyear Canada Inc. "We truly believe the customers are served by more than one channel of distribution."
Independent tire dealers cannot reach every customer, he added, so "we must be where our customers wish to purchase the product."
Executives from Michelin North America (Canada) Inc. and Bridgestone/ Firestone Canada Inc. agreed. "Our target is the end user," said Al Policy, president and CEO of BFS Canada. Added Erik R. Olsen of Michelin: "The consumer is dictating where our products need to be."
Dealers attending the Tire Dealers Association of Canada convention in Toronto grabbed the opportunity to ask questions of some of the nation's leading tire executives during the Breakfast with the Tire Company Presidents program Jan. 27.
Nine executives, including five company presidents, participated in the panel.
Asked whether they think dealers can survive selling only one major brand, panel members generally agreed it was preferable to have more than one supplier.
"We firmly believe that to enhance and maintain your independence, you need alternative suppliers," said Joe Higuchi, vice president, sales and marketing, for Yokohama Tire Canada Inc.
Dennis Gaede, president of Nokian Tyres Inc., suggested dealers not align with just one supplier "because consumers want a choice."
However, Goodyear's Mr. Barnes said his company believes dealers can survive and flourish with one supplier. "We have a tremendous number of committed select dealers," he said.
Dealers also asked about plans for the Internet and e-commerce and whether manufacturers might someday use this technology to supply products directly to consumers, relegating dealers to an installer role.
Most panelists said their companies were working on retail e-commerce but were not ready to go to market with it yet.
"E-commerce is one of our top priorities," said Kelvin Oh, regional sales manager for Kumho Tire Canada Inc.
Goodyear and Michelin also are working on e-commerce initiatives.
While Goodyear's program is not ready for market, Mr. Barnes said the company's independent tire dealers will be "very much involved" in those efforts.
Michelin also is committed to growing in the e-commerce environment, Mr. Olsen said. He noted the company recently announced an internal reorganization and has developed a Total Customer Satisfaction unit whose primary mission is to develop business-to-business and business-to-consumer e-commerce programs.
"We are committed to helping our partners grow in the e-commerce environment," he said.
Nokian's Mr. Gaede, meanwhile, urged dealers to get involved with the Web. "Today's customers go searching the Web for tire dealers and tire information," he said.
As to whether tire makers will go directly to consumers using e-commerce, Mr. Olsen said Michelin already allows consumers to order the customized versions of the BFGoodrich Scorcher T/A colored tires directly.
"We are obviously exploring that area," he said, "but I think it would be naive of us to move in that direction by ourselves."
Bridgestone/Firestone's Mr. Policy said he thinks selling tires over the Internet, at least for the next few years, will be tough.
But, he added, when looking at tires and service, anything dealers can do to help fill up their bays "will be an advantage to both of us."