LOUISVILLE, Ky.-Steve Disney knows he isn't starting from scratch. At the same time, the new president of the Tire Association of North America (TANA) is itching to get started.
Filling what he termed the big shoes of Nick Hodel, Mr. Disney is looking to follow in his predecessor's footsteps. The incoming president credited Mr. Hodel with moving the association forward and is looking to build on that foundation.
Mr. Disney, 45, has been married to wife Cathleen for 23 years. The couple have two children. They perhaps represent the fourth generation of Louisville-based Disney Tire Co. Inc., which began in 1950 when Mr. Disney's father and uncle started it from scratch. Before joining the dealership full time after his graduation from Vanderbilt University, Mr. Disney worked there summers.
He takes over the reins of TANA as it celebrates its 80th anniversary during the Specialty Equipment Market Association/International Tire Exposition, Oct. 30-Nov. 2 in Las Vegas.
Looking ahead, Mr. Disney sees a year of reinforcing TANA's ``three primary missions.'' He defined those as providing training and education opportunities for TANA members, advocating government relations and public relations for the tire industry, and continuing to produce the International Tire Expo.
``Those three things are kind of the pillars on which we stand,'' he told Tire Business.
Other goals Mr. Disney would like to accomplish include increasing TANA membership and working together with the International Tire & Rubber Association (ITRA). He doesn't believe the slumping economy will hurt the industry, nor is he concerned about the influx of car makers into the replacement tire market.
Upping the numbers
Mr. Disney estimates TANA's membership at 3,600 independent dealers but he sees that as a drop in the bucket compared to what it could be. He lists improving the figure among his chief goals, believing increased enrollment can only make the association stronger.
``There's strength in numbers,'' he said. ``When we need to approach the government on behalf of the welfare of the tire industry...the stronger our membership numbers are, the more credibility we have in terms with any regulator or legislator that we are dealing with. In that sense, we need all the resources we can get.''
He believes membership can and will increase. Selling the benefits of the association may lure non-members-yet it's not merely a matter of asking them to join, but clearly illustrating why they should, Mr. Disney said.
``There are a lot of independent tire dealers that don't belong who rely on the efforts of the few to benefit the many,'' he said. Consequently, TANA must do a better job of selling the benefits it offers, including its Car Care One credit card program, training programs and other direct member benefits.
``That is going to be one of the agenda items for the year,'' he said.
Mr. Disney also alluded to the advantage of membership in terms of networking and consulting. Members can learn how other members run their businesses. What works for one, after all, will likely work for another.
He also said the development of a passenger and light truck tire training and certification program has only added to the appeal of belonging to TANA.
Right time to get together
A year ago Mr. Hodel talked about it as a goal, and Mr. Disney is hoping to finally get some sort of TANA-ITRA cooperation off the drawing board and into reality.
If nothing else, he enjoys a home-field advantage of sorts. With Disney Tire located in Louisville, Mr. Disney is literally a stone's throw from ITRA's offices. He refers to ITRA President Tom Raben-who operates Evansville, Ind.-based Raben Tire Co.- as a peer.
``I have locations in Evansville and he has locations in Louisville,'' Mr. Disney said, illustrating how close the two actually are.
``We'll have no trouble working together. I know Tom and have a great deal of respect for Tom and the (ITRA) staff here in Louisville. I am very enthused about the possibilities there.''
Mr. Disney said that for as long as six years TANA and ITRA have been looking to join forces in some way and have taken ``an active approach'' toward getting together. It seems only logical that the two groups-whose memberships share many interests, objectives and agendas-would come together in some way at some point.
Still, he said he has no explanation as to why that hasn't happened. But he believes it eventually will.
``There are no obstacles that I can see that couldn't be overcome,'' he said.
Concerns and consternation
Despite myriad reasons for tire dealers to be worried-such as possibly slowing tire sales-Mr. Disney brushes aside the notion, calling the industry ``fairly strong.''
He said it's natural to assume some fallout will occur from more than a year of massive tire recalls, terming that ``borrowing against future demands.''
But he called it only a softness, not a weakness.
Likewise, a stalled economy- while not to be ignored-is no bane to tire dealers.
Mr. Disney subscribes to the theory that bad news for the economy can be good news for tire dealers, saying people will replace tires first, cars second.
``I think all dealers who are equipped to offer products in a wide variety of price ranges, with the corresponding features and benefits that go along with those price ranges, will stand to do well in a down economy,'' he said.
Although Mr. Disney said he expected attendance at this year's SEMA/ITE show to be down a peg or two in wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he doesn't envision any long-term fallout. By this time next year, assuming travel has returned somewhat to normal, he believes the show also will return to normalcy.
Addressing the threat of dealers losing some replacement tire sales to programs operated by auto makers, Mr. Disney compared this to the influx a few years back of discount wholesale clubs offering tires. In fact, he believes warehouse club customers may shift their tire buying to auto dealers.
He pointed out that an advantage tire dealers always will maintain is from an education and information standpoint because they're specialists, while he referred to fringe tire sellers as generalists.
A drawback he thinks car dealers will run into is expensive bay time being used for minor tire repairs and adjustments.
``That's probably something they're not going to be fond of, where (tire dealers) are quite used to that,'' he said.
``Yes, they are a threat,'' he said of tire-selling auto dealers.
``Yes, they have great resources. But in the long run I see them capturing a certain share and staying basically at that level at the most.''
Changing of the guard
Regardless of what TANA has or has not done over the past year, there's no denying the mutual admiration society that exists between Messrs. Hodel and Disney. Each spoke glowingly of the other and stressed the importance of the continuity that exists within the framework of the TANA heirarchy.
``He knows most of the people in the industry,'' Mr. Hodel said of his successor. ``He's in the wholesale tire business, so his grassroots are independent tire dealers.
``He knows what independent tire dealers need.... I'm going to have the easiest past president's job in the world.''
Mr. Hodel said he expects Mr. Disney to enhance the association's training and certification programs, as well as further efforts toward TANA-ITRA cooperation.
He also emphasized the importance of maintaining contact with state associations. Mr. Disney, himself, is on the board of the Kentucky/Tennessee Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association.
Mr. Disney also emphasized the importance of TANA's training and certification programs.
``I believe we have new modules to develop to follow along after the passenger/light truck-mounting/dismounting certification program,'' Mr. Disney said.
``We have a very active training committee that involves not only individuals from our board and our membership, but also the industry at large.''
He credited the TANA leadership staff with maintaining an inward focus over the past several years, but intimated that it may be time to start shifting the focus outward.
He also singled out Ross Kogel, TANA's executive vice president, as being the organization's leader. And he stressed the importance of the tire industry playing a role in government affairs, noting the reactivation of TANA's political action committee as crucial in pursuing the industry's agenda.
Finally, Mr. Disney summed up his new role, saying the blueprint has been laid for a successful tenure as TANA president.
``TANA is in excellent health in all respects,'' he said. ``If I can only continue the good work of my predecessors I will be quite pleased.''