AKRON-Training, training and more training.
If there's one issue that's more certain in the tire industry than death and taxes, it's the continuing need to train employees properly-especially when the failure to do so can be quite costly in today's litigious society.
Liability lawsuits definitely have impacted how tire dealers perceive tire repair and if their employees are trained to perform repairs correctly, according to Bill Johnson, director of worldwide training at Tech International Inc.
``More people are concerned about doing it correctly than before,'' Mr. Johnson said. ``Those people who were just patching or plugging a tire are looking harder at doing it right and taking the tire off the wheel and following the industry recommendations. That definitely has changed.''
Tech, Rema Tip Top/North America Inc. and Patch Rubber Co.-all of which offer training on location at customers' dealerships-agree that greater interest has spread throughout the tire industry over doing the job right. That means not plugging tire punctures in a few minutes, but taking tires off wheels and thoroughly sealing the holes with reinforcements.
John Garrett, technical director at Rema, said tire plugging has decreased in the past few years, but the industry still has a ``long way to go'' in educating dealership employees to repair completely a tire injury.
Although tire repair methods haven't changed much, all three companies have experienced increased demand for training, partly because of the Firestone tire recall. But Patch noted that a 1995 liability suit involving an alleged improper repair at Army Trail Tires & Service in Carol Stream, Ill., ``freaked everybody out,'' according to Jeff Young, Patch's national sales manager for tire repair and retreading products.
``There was a ton of interest just in that (Army Trail Tires) did a flat repair, and it was the wrong procedure and (the dealership) got hurt.'' Mr. Young said. ``The emphasis was how do I do it right to avoid that kind of situation?''
Prior to that suit, Mr. Young said most consumers wanted the cheapest tire repairs available, not necessarily the best. Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.'s 6.5 million tire recall in 2000, followed by Ford Motor Co.'s replacement of an additional 13 million Firestone tires last May, certainly have helped stir more consumer awareness of the need for proper tire inflation pressure, he said.
Patch, a division of Akron-based Myers Industries Inc., has dubbed its training programs as ``Do it Right'' and certifies a dealership's participation, Mr. Young said. The company's instruction includes not only how to properly repair tires, but how to sell motorists on repairs that are higher priced.
``I think we do a very poor job in educating the consumer on why (repair) is not a $3 or $5 plug,'' he said.
Rema is reinstituting the practice of sending mobile training units (MTUs) in 2002 to reach more customers with the ``meat and potatoes'' of proper tire repair, said Mr. Garrett, who added that the challenge remains to get techs to understand how much tire repairs impact someone's life.
He said he doesn't think dealers are as aware as they could or should be about liability concerns because, more often than not, owners and managers instead usually send their tire techs to Rema's repair seminars, where liability issues are addressed.
``We need to bring the level of expertise of the tire industry up,'' Mr. Garrett said. ``I don't know how we need to do that, but that's the bottom line.''