AKRON (Aug. 23, 2001)—As any dealer knows, running a tire business today can be quite demanding as industry consolidation and competition force dealerships to offer services beyond selling tires.
Similarly, managing a state tire dealer association has evolved beyond offering monthly meetings and social venues for members. State associations today increasingly are doing more for dealers—from tracking legislation to offering group rates on insurance, to training technicians—all with limited budgets.
To highlight that point, the California Tire Dealers Association—South recently sent out letters to its members making light of its services and financial state. The group facetiously headlined its letter by saying it wouldn't exist after Sept. 1—a tactic it used to motivate its members to buy tickets to a fundraising dinner party.
“We're sorry we have to resort to 'scare tactics,'” the letter by Executive Director Ed Cohn apologized. “Don't think you'll miss the association?” it continued. “Who are you going to call when the Board of Equalization or California Integrated Waste Management Board comes calling?
“How would you like to stand in your parking lot and brand each and every one of your waste tires before they are picked up?”
Mr. Cohn's letter went on to explain that were it not for the vigilance of the CTDA—South, members themselves might have to monitor “every single bill” affecting dealers that the state legislature drafts and sends into committees. They'd have to mount their own letter-writing campaigns, and “take a day or two off from your business” to attend legislative meetings or hearings.
“Don't let apathy kill the association,” he pleaded.
Steve Akridge, executive director of the Virginia Tire & Automotive Service Dealers Association (VTASDA), told Tire Business that running a state association today is more challenging than years ago because associations still depend on membership dues and “that can be tough with all the consolidations” that have occurred among tire dealerships.
In Maryland, Virginia Eckardt, who has managed professional associations for 17 years, said she has yet to see dues cover the actual operation of an association.
“I don't know of too many associations out there where funding and cash flow is not an issue,” said Ms. Eckardt, executive director of the Maryland Tire Dealers Association (MTDA).
Besides dues, many state associations cover their expenses by offering rates on business forms, uniforms, insurance, credit card processing services and check guarantees, to name a few. Some hold conventions while others rely on special fundraising events.
Ms. Eckardt said the MTDA hasn't held a convention or trade show for its members in the past two years because dealers in her state are busy minding the store and just don't have time for them. As a result, the MTDA holds periodic, one-day events such as crab feasts and oyster roasts to raise money for its activities.
“State associations have to do other things than legislative oversight and lobbying. To pay for that, it takes a lot more than dues money,” she said.
To increase its membership base, the group currently is in the process of merging with another association that Ms. Eckardt manages—the Chesapeake Automotive Wholesalers Association—to form a new association that encompasses Maryland's entire automotive aftermarket. Ms. Eckardt said she hopes to complete that merger and name the new association by year-end.
Similar to MTDA's drive for new membership, the VTASDA's Mr. Akridge is looking not so much to merge with another group as to draw to VTASDA nontraditional tire stores—auto repair shops that sell some tires on the side. In Virginia, he said, no trade association exists for “garages” selling tires, and those business establishments have been receptive to joining the group.
“I think that's one thing that we're looking to do a little differently in keeping that membership base and offset some of the members we've lost through consolidation,” Mr. Akridge said.
Bob Smith, executive vice president of the North Carolina Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association (NCTDRA), noted that more services are demanded of state associations today than when he first started managing the state group 18 years ago. But dealers also need associations now more than ever because of pressure from suppliers, government regulators and consumers. He also has noticed that young tire dealers approach association membership with a different attitude than their fathers did.
“I think the older tire dealers feel like they need to pay back the industry, so to speak,” Mr. Smith said. “The younger ones look at it as an investment. For their dues, they're expecting some services.”