AKRON—Sites such as Tire Rack and CarParts.com may sell tires through graphical Web sites geared toward the public, but two very different operations, Fairmount Tire and Rubber Inc. of Los Angeles, and Central Chicago Tire & Wheel, use the Net in very different ways.
At Fairmount, the Internet means the company's network of 25 dealerships is connected to its warehouse on a secured, private system. Dealers can check inventory, use a computerized work order or regular e-mail, order a tire, and the word goes directly to the warehouse. The tire then is put on the delivery truck.
"I really use the Internet," said Fairmount Vice President Brad Saunders. "The whole goal is to manage the supply chain more efficiently using the Internet as a low-cost means of getting that information."
Fairmount invested more than $300,000 to establish a network that works with TirePro, their Unix-based tire-business software, and the Microsoft Office suite. Wiring and e-commerce-grade firewalls also were installed.
Local- and wide-area networks were set up and remote access established. Hewlett-Packard computers were given to each dealer and training set up. The warehouse and administrative offices have digital subscriber line (DSL) connections.
Now, each retailer needs only to boot up their computer and a customized desktop appears, complete with all the links Mr. Saunders and his team have determined are useful for the daily business of selling tires.
One example is an Excel spreadsheet macro (a programming shortcut on the keyboard) that enables each independent dealer to take price sheets, factor in his or her own mark-up and print out price sheets that appear to be from that store.
Mr. Saunders stressed that computers will not produce miracles in a business that boils down to people. "All the technology in the world will not sell one more tire," he said. "We don't want to lose the personal relationships we have with our guys. This is just a tool to make our life easier."
In Chicago, Robert Jacobs specializes in insurance and theft replacement wheels and tires. Mr. Jacobs has used e-mail and the Net to develop new business through identifying buyers and sellers.
One advantage of the Internet that Mr. Jacobs learned is that changes can be made quickly and inexpensively. Central Chicago Tire recently printed a four-page color mailer that promoted specials on Firestone tires at the time of the Firestone recall.
Those mailers are now gathering dust on the dealership's shelves—something that would never have happened if Central Chicago Tire had used an Internet promotion.
Mr. Jacobs plans to implement the Web site in February.