GREENVILLE, S.C.—To help connect truckers with commercial dealerships that offer a full range of services, Michelin North America Inc. is pointing fleets to the stars. The tire maker has launched the Truck Service Network to evaluate all Michelin dealers' points of sale and rate those locations that meet specific criteria determined by fleets. Dealerships that meet the criteria receive star ratings and become part of the service network.
Just as Group Michelin publishes a "red book" that rates the services of French hotels and restaurants with stars, so Michelin Americas Truck Tires will publish a book for truckers that rates dealerships from one to three stars, said Tom Holtz, project manager for the Michelin Service Network.
Since March, Michelin's sales force has been visiting and ranking dealerships across North America, Mr. Holtz said. Some of the criteria on the evaluations include:
Offering 24-hour, seven-day-per-week emergency roadside assistance;
Availability of new tires and retreads;
Accessibility of mounting, balancing and repair equipment; and
Trained service personnel.
The tire maker is not stipulating any tire-purchasing quotas for membership in the network, but Michelin tires must account for at least 35 percent of a dealership's sales, he said.
Although dealers must sell retreads, they are not required to be affiliated with Michelin's retreading network to qualify, Mr. Holtz said.
Dealers also do not have to participate in Michelin's Tire Electronic Asset Management (TEAM) program to be eligible for the Truck Service Network. However, Michelin will encourage star-rated dealerships to take part in TEAM, Mr. Holtz said, and give priority on TEAM contracts to them.
TEAM is a tire-management partnership between Michelin and a dealership that calculates a fleet's cost-per-mile and then passes along cost savings.
Because the Truck Service Network program is new, three-star dealerships will be "extraordinarily rare," Mr. Holtz said, noting that Michelin will set high marks for this rating because it is the pre-eminent category.
To be ranked with three stars, dealerships would have to offer more services and have more products in stock than a one-star or two-star dealership.
Mr. Holtz explained that a one- or no-star designation doesn't mean a dealership is mediocre, nor will it lose out on fleet business. All of Michelin's dealer contracts with fleet customers will remain effective regardless of certification ratings.
Instead, the Truck Service Network aims to help dealers see what a fleet wants and challenge them to offer a higher level of service, Mr. Holtz said.
"It's not designed to rate a dealer and then walk away from him and say, `Well you have no stars. That's unfortunate.' It's designed to rate a dealer, and then offer him a program for progress and improvement," he said.
Compared with a three-star dealership, a one-star dealership may perform good service, but not carry a broad range of product in stock or have full tractor and trailer alignment capabilities, Mr. Holtz said. Michelin wants to help dealers identify those areas where they fall short in servicing fleets and help them improve.
All Michelin dealers are eligible to participate in the network, but a dealership that doesn't receive a star rating will not be published in MATT's Truck Service Network book, a Michelin spokeswoman said.
Any dealership that earns one star or more will receive varying levels of benefits and assistance from Michelin, including priority status on emergency road service calls, signage designating the dealership as a certified Michelin truck specialist, and advertising aimed at both fleets and truck manufacturers, Mr. Holtz said.
Michelin also will provide training and fund equipment upgrades, Mr. Holtz said, but will not offer purchasing discounts on Michelin tires as part of the program.
Although every certified dealership will receive support from Michelin, the three-star dealerships will receive the most, the Michelin spokeswoman said.
She said one type of incentive Michelin is developing for employees of three-star dealerships is a "Bib rewards" program, which will give discounts on hotels and other personal items.
Michelin developed the Truck Service Network because fleet customers are requesting more from the tire maker than just new tires, Mr. Holtz said. Truckers want a complete package of uniform services—including mounting, balancing, alignment, retreading and wheel refurbishing, to name a few.
"They want product; they want service; they want information," he said. "They want all those things packaged into one entity. We can no longer be just a product-providing company. We have to be a full-service provider."
The program is not merely a reaction to other tire maker's offerings, such as Goodyear's Truckwise program, he added.
Michelin expects to complete all dealer evaluations by July 1, Mr. Holtz said. Re-evaluations will take place regularly, to recognize dealers who have made improvements, and the guide will be republished.
The Truck Service Network guide also will be available on CD-ROM, diskette and on the Internet, Mr. Holtz said.
The tire maker expects its truck service initiative to change with fleet demands, he said. For example, dealer participation in e-commerce is not a criterion for the Truck Service Network but could be in the future.