HERMON, Maine—Maine Commercial Tire Co. (MCT) has done something it claims no other independent tire dealership or retreader in the U.S. has. The company recently received ISO 9002 certification. Since the "go-go" 1980s, large American companies eagerly have sought certification by the Geneva, Switzerland-based International Organization for Standardization, which calls itself ISO.
These firms proudly wear the ISO "badge" as evidence of their ability to play in the new, highly charged global economy.
MCT spent 14 months thoroughly analyzing the operations of its single Bandag retread shop and the service and sales departments at its five locations. So why did this commercial tire dealership based in a small town outside Bangor, Maine, do it?
"We've expanded so fast," said Jim McCurdy, vice president of sales and marketing, "we didn't have things like an employee manual." After reading about the ISO process, Mr. McCurdy said he became convinced the certification process would be beneficial to MCT.
For the most part, large manufacturers were the first U.S. companies to achieve ISO 9000 certification—to promote quality assurance of the design and manufacturing of products to their customers.
"Initially, we did it (the certification process) because of retreading," Mr. McCurdy said, "then we expanded it to cover sales and service."
Because MCT manufactures a product, retreaded tires, but does not design it, the company sought the ISO 9002 designation.
Retread plant manager Dan Spencer was placed in charge of the certification effort.
"We already had a good management system," Mr. Spencer said. "We needed to do it (document the system) to facilitate growth."
Founded in 1990, MCT has grown to a company with 32 employees and annual sales of about $9 million. The company offers 24-hour road service with its fleet of 14 service trucks.
In addition to its Bandag retreads, MCT features Bridgestone, Firestone and Dunlop brand truck tires at its headquarters and other locations in Augusta, Lewiston, Madison and Waldoboro, all in Maine.
As part of the certification process, MCT developed quality standards in all operational areas. Mr. Spencer and others studied 20 different elements including traceability, process control, training, internal quality audits and document control.
MCT has produced a series of documents related to every aspect of its business in a quality procedures manual, and that will aid further expansion, Mr. McCurdy said.
"It's all in big three-ring binders," he said, "and we've got it all on file."
Messrs. McCurdy and Spencer said the ISO directory doesn't list any other tire dealership or retreader in the U.S. as ISO compliant, though there are a couple in Canada.
Mr. Spencer said all of the firm's employees were involved in the process at some point. "The first couple of months were hectic," he said.
The project was so large and complex, Mr. Spencer said, that, if he had it to do over again, he would delegate more of the work earlier in the process.
MCT's certification efforts were guided by Intertek Service Group, a consultant firm based in Foxboro, Mass. Mr. Spencer said hiring the consultant was essential to MCT's success, and he advised others interested in attaining ISO certification to do the same.
"The consultant will head you in the right direction," he said. State and local government economic development departments have information about the process and can provide names of consultants, he said.
"It points out strengths and weaknesses," Mr. Spencer said of the process. "It's taught us a lot." Employee involvement and getting upper management to "buy in" to the process also are vital to having it work, he said.
Mr. McCurdy pointed out the ISO certification creates an image of consistent quality and reliability—especially important for a retreader. Certification means, "You've got some hard proof that you are making good retreads," he said.
Retreaders have long faced questions about the quality of their product, he said, and the ISO certification process allows them to measure it. "Retreaders need to do this," he said.
ISO is a non-governmental federation of 130 countries founded in 1947 to promote standardization around the world to facilitate the international exchange of goods and services. The organization changed its acronym to ISO to make it similar to the Greek word "isos," which means "equal."
ISO product standards developed over the last half century include photographic film speed code, telephone and banking credit cards, freight containers and paper sizes.