LAS VEGAS—Though a tire recall and public hysteria have given Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.'s TireStarz dealers every reason to jump ship, the tire maker is giving dealers as many reasons as possible to stay on board.
Though the first national meeting of TireStarz dealers, held Nov. 2 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, was closed to the press, interviews afterwards with dealers and company executives in attendance indicated that BFS reiterated the message that it will rebuild the Firestone brand and help its dealers in all possible ways.
BFS, which currently has 514 TireStarz retailers, expects the program to sign an average of 150 dealers per year, John Gamauf, vice president of consumer tire dealer sales, told Tire Business.
Since Aug. 1, BFS has signed 37 new TireStarz dealers despite the recall, said TireStarz USA Manager Bill Pace. By comparison, the number of dealers lost for the same period is in the single digits, he said.
Thus far this year, 170 dealers have joined the program, Mr. Gamauf said.
BFS also shared with TireStarz dealers the status of its company-owned retail operations so that dealers could compare their businesses with the tire company's.
Jerry Cash, BFS' national director of business development, told Tire Business that many programs the company is offering to TireStarz retailers have resulted from programs in place among company-owned stores. For example, because 1,600-plus Firestone stores buy NAPA auto parts and Cintas uniforms, he said, BFS has offered TireStarz dealers price breaks on those items that they couldn't get otherwise.
BFS also discussed plans to rebuild its image among female consumers, many of whom drive sport-utility vehicles. Mr. Gamauf said the tire maker is considering recruiting a female spokesperson for its national ad campaign—someone comparable to Jimmy Stewart, who spoke for Firestone in the 1970s.
Mr. Gamauf said BFS may very well hire both male and female spokespersons, but nothing is finalized yet. He said he and other company officials will visit with selected dealers in Nashville in the coming weeks to discuss ideas for spokespersons, then present dealer input to BFS' top management.
In addition, BFS is considering reshuffling some of its brand lineups, particularly moving some Bridgestone lines into the position held by Firestone lines in BFS' good-better-best lineup.
The TireStarz program requires that 51 percent of a retailer's unit sales be a combination of BFS flag and associate brands. The tire maker provides advertising dollars and sales training, while BFS distributors handle billing, signage, delivery and promotional materials.
Among the attendees who expressed loyalty toward BFS was Scott Baird of OK Tire in Washington Courthouse, Ohio, who said he's sticking with BFS despite the fact his Firestone sales nosedived in September. He said he has been receiving BFS credits on the returned tires, and his sales have rebounded to almost normal levels.
"In my opinion, they've done much more than they needed to do," Mr. Baird said, referring to BFS' handling of the tire recall.
David Ross, owner of Ross Tire Inc. in Eddyville, Ky., also plans to stay with TireStarz because, prior to the recall the program, it increased his sales 25-30 percent. He said his Firestone sales now are down 10 percent, but his Bridgestone sales haven't dropped off.
Keith Smith, owner of Pete Smith's Tire & Quick Lube in Louisburg, N.C., said he was especially pleased BFS is extending the TireStarz "spiff" program to 12 months a year from nine. This program pays a salesperson an incentive ranging from 75 cents to more than $3 per tire.
Terry Magaldi, director of dealer programs for S|&|S Tire Inc., a TireStarz distributor in Lexington, Ky., said he has seen "unbelievable support" for BFS from dealers, who "really feel like a part of the family." BFS has done "so much in the past couple years to make these dealers feel a part of something," he said.