ROCHESTER HILLS, Mich. (April 24, 2000)—Trucking fleets are facing a lot of changes affecting their retread suppliers of late. As we all know, new-tire manufacturers are getting into the truck tire retread market in a big way by introducing their own retread systems and operating retread plants.
Retread supplier companies are buying tire dealerships and avoiding the middleman to get to fleets. Several foreign retread equipment and materials manufacturers also have entered the market. As a result, there has never been so much choice and competition in the radial truck tire retread market as there is today.
Instead of a fleet having a choice of only one or two retread systems and a few retread supplier companies, there now are a myriad number of system types from standard top-cap precure, precure ring treads, full-cap precure, segmented mold cure, and mold cure with full circle rings as well as various hybrids of mold-cure and precure systems. And there are just as many retread system suppliers.
The result is that competition for fleet business has never been keener. What this means is that a fleet now has to figure out which retread system as well as which retreader is right for its needs.
This is a daunting task—especially when the fleet maintenance manager has a line of tire dealers waiting outside his door to pitch their tire/retread products and services.
So how does he do it? What is he looking for? Better yet, how do you as a retreader/tire dealer get the fleet´s business?
The first thing a truck operator is going to determine is whether your services meet his requirements. Managers of larger fleets also want their dealers to participate in national account programs so that pricing and billing is clear, simplified and standardized.
More and more fleets are outsourcing aspects of their tire maintenance and need tire mounting and demounting services, 24-hour road service and wheel refurbishing.
Every fleet manager will want to know what your turnaround time for retreads is. Most people are satisfied with a week, but many fleets, especially larger ones, demand two to three days now.
More importantly, truck operators want to know what type of process you use, what makes it different from the others, and the advantages that it presents to their particular operation.
Of course, your retread warranty policy is a vital component of your product offering too. Finally, the fleet manager needs to know whether you can handle his particular tire specifications in relation to repair limits, casing management practices, any special markings/identification he requires, etc.
Assuming you have satisfied all these concerns in his office, the next thing the fleet manager should do is visit your retread plant for an evaluation of its work methods and quality procedures.
The first thing he should ask you is when your plant was inspected and/or certified last and documentation of training for your plant employees. If you have these certificates, they should be framed, mounted and displayed for everyone who walks in the door to see.
If you don´t have a current inspection/certification certificate and have no proof of training your employees in the areas of work they perform, he may make tracks right then back to his office.
Once entering the plant itself, the next thing that will impress him either negatively or positively is its cleanliness, spaciousness and organization.
Nothing gives a better impression than a clean, well-lighted plant that has a clear path of production flow.
Things such as built-up dirt and rubber dust, tire paint all over the floor and walls, boxes of rubber stacked all over the production floor, dust-covered tires in various stages of retread/repair abandoned at different stages in the process, a warehouse in chaos, and employees who look like they slept in the cement booth will result in an impression that will last long after the manager has decided to give his business to your competitor.
This impression also will indicate to him whether you really have the production capacity to handle his needs.
At initial inspection, regardless of the high-tech equipment you use for casing inspection, the fleet manager still is going to look for an experienced person working in a well-lighted area who is inspecting dry, clean casings thoroughly, identifying damaged areas for repair, and marking casings "RAR" appropriately.
Only after this are you going to "wow" him with your high-tech casing inspection equipment. Make sure
you explain thoroughly how your equipment works and why you picked the non-destructive inspection machinery you have in your shop.
He´ll also want to know how you track casings in process to ensure he gets all of his casings back on schedule.
In the repair area that is separate and well-lighted, your potential customer should see wall charts showing procedures, repair unit selection, cure times, etc., for the repair materials you use.
Repair materials must have current manufacture date codes or expiration date codes and they must be stored in a cool, dry place. All repair materials, cements and supplies should be from the same manufacturer.
It´s easy for anyone to spot whether the proper rpm tools and rasps/stones are being used by looking for gummy build-up on buffing rasps and smoke generated during the repair process. If the fleet manager sees this, it´s bound to be a turn-off.
With all the great, automatic buffers in retread plants today, buffing should be one stage in the process that will impress the heck out of a mechanically oriented, but non-tire person, such as your potential fleet customer.
However, he´s still going to need to see wall charts or reference books that are used to determine the correct specifications for each tire no matter how automated the buffer is.
No matter what type of buffer is used, buff texture should be smooth and unscorched. Any untexturized areas must be texturized by hand.
The skive station is usually where the newest employee is assigned, and maybe that is why buzz-outs/skive-outs are the single most neglected or mishandled detail in the retread process. It is also one of the major causes of retread failures.
The fleet manager should find that all dirt, rust, and foreign material is removed, loose wires are cut back into the rubber and the skive provides a clean, solid surface for the new rubber to adhere to. Scorched gummy rubber and wires that are loose and frayed are bright flares that indicate poor quality.
Whether the tread is applied with an extruder or on a builder, the fleet manager´s main concern is that the quality of rubber meets his performance expectations, that it is put on straight and centered, and no contamination is introduced between the tread and the buffed surface.
With precure treads, he´ll want no more than two splices at least 18 inches apart. He should check all raw materials such as cushion gum and uncured tread rubber for their date of manufacture or expiration and make sure they are stored in a cool, dry place.
In the curing area, whether chambers or molds are used, the vital thing the fleet manager will look for are controls that monitor time, temperature, and pressure.
He can readily understand these gauges and charts and tell whether the retreads are being properly cured. He´ll notice for sure any steam and air leaks that may contribute to improper cure.
By the way, if your equipment throughout the shop is not well maintained, not working properly, or fails to work at all, your sales pitch probably will also fail to work.
The fleet manager will expect to see final inspection performed on a well-lighted spreader with both the inside and outside of the tire thoroughly inspected. He´ll want to see any staples in the tread removed and watch the inspector check the DOT code, ensure that the repairs are sound, the tread is on straight and the tire has been cured properly.
Throughout his plant tour, the fleet manager will probably ask you to explain each step to him. Count on him to look and see if what you say should happen as each step actually is occurring.
Once the fleet has decided to give you its business, I suggest you keep track of what retread failures the fleet experiences and develop an adjustment rate for yourself. Odds are, the fleet may be doing this too and you want to ensure your numbers match theirs.
If the fleet wants to test your product against another, get involved in monitoring the test. You´ll endear yourself to the fleet account as well as learn something useful about your own performance.
In these days of fierce competition you need every edge you can get. Start with the basics and make sure your plant, products, and services exceed your fleet accounts´ expectations and differentiate you from the competition.
Ms. Fisher, former president of Roadway Tire Co., is a consultant based in Rochester Hills, Mich.M