CLEARWATER BEACH, Fla.—The future of private brands is tied to an increased retail presence, according to the executive director of the industry's Private Brand Tire Group. "Manufacturers are inclined to go to larger retailers today," said Don Dominguez, who heads the 16-member group based in Clearwater Beach. "There is controlled distribution to some extent and private branders are going to have to go in that direction."
Since most of the PBTG's members are wholesalers, he acknowledged that some certainly are looking at attractive retail opportunities.
"...And we know through previous experience that (any private brander) that's expanded by a retail presence in the marketplace has become a more attractive customer to the manufacturers," he said.
PBTG members rang up about $3 billion in tire sales last year, he estimated, thanks, in part, to increased sales by the Heafner Tire Group, a member that grew its own business via several acquisitions. While the group's membership is down from 22 in 1997, its current members are larger.
The low fill rates many dealers received from major manufacturers last year put pressure on private brand supplies, he said, as manufacturers shifted production from private brands to higher-margin flag and associate brands, but those problems have been improving.
The group's future, he believes, is tied to providing value-added services, such as employee training.
One way to provide more value to group members, Mr. Dominguez said, is for the PBTG to continue to promote an enhanced relationship between the 36-year-old trade group and the Tire Association of North America (TANA).
Ross Kogel Jr., TANA's interim executive director, attended the PBTG's annual meeting May 4-5 in Clearwater Beach, and Mr. Dominguez said the two groups will continue to work closely together on training and other joint projects. For example, his organization "will work on a common goal to establish a training program similar to TANA's."
He suggested trained tire service technicians could wear a TANA patch with a stripe denoting their association with the PBTG.
Last year the two groups announced combined membership benefits, including discounts on phone service, office supplies and Texaco gasoline. PBTG members also get TANA member rates on all association training programs, including Internet-based technician training.
"We have found some great opportunities for the small dealer," Mr. Dominguez said.
For example, the PBTG has established a long-distance phone plan for small dealers at a cost of 4.9 cents per minute, including incoming calls on a toll-free line. He said this toll-free rate is about half what most businesses pay.
At the May meeting, the PBTG also announced a program with a subsidiary of Cisco Systems Inc. to offer a product called I-Phone for $400.
This advanced telephone, produced by the San Jose, Calif.-based computer networking company, provides Internet access and e-mail capabilities without the expense and complexity of a computer and modem.
"This is great for the small dealer who may never have a computer in his business," said Mr. Dominguez. Even the smallest dealers can have the flexibility of electronic ordering at any time, he said.
The PBTG also has a World Wide Web site under development (www.privatebrand.com) that is scheduled for completion by the end of June, he said.
The PBTG recently announced new officers for the coming year: William "Bill" Hirst of Jetzon-Telstar Tire Co., a division of Treadways Corp., is president, Don Helker of Del-Nat Tire Corp. is vice president and Sure Tire Co.'s John O'Rourke is secretary-treasurer.