AKRON (Sept. 27, 2000)—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 speedy 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 day-to-day 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. The Net, meanwhile, helps drivers get where they need to go, thanks to Yahoo maps.
Mr. Saunders is quick to stress 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."
Mark Pieter, of Computer Resolve, the Anaheim, Calif.-based system integrator that worked with Fairmount, echoed that sentiment. "It´s all about how well leadership at the top stand behind the effort, in word and in action," he said.
"We´ve put in ultra-sophisticated systems and come back three months later to find the executives aren´t using the systems, the computers are gathering dust and when they are used, people are using them to play Solitaire. I have to credit Brad. He had the vision and could articulate what he wanted in English. Making it happen was our job."
In Chicago, Robert Jacobs, a third-generation tire man, specializes in insurance and theft replacement wheels and tires. Mr. Jacobs has used e-mail and the World Wide Web to develop new business through identifying buyers and sellers.
One of the advantages of the Internet is that changes can be made quickly and inexpensively. Central Tire recently printed a four-page color mailer that promoted specials on Firestone tires after Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. announced its tire recall.
Those mailers are now gathering dust on the dealership´s shelves—something that would never have happened if Central Tire had used an Internet promotion.
"We hope to grow our retail and wholesale business through a Web site that we´ll put in place by February," said Mr. Jacobs. "You can´t beat the cost of Internet advertising. We´ll be dealing all over the country."
Mr. Yip is a freelance writer in San Jose, Calif.