Keep truckers rolling and they'll keep rolling back into your shops.
That's the basic theory behind the Northwest Tire Dealer Alliance, a band of Bandag retreaders and commercial tire dealers in a seven-state region stretching from Sacramento, Calif., to Billings, Mont. Seeing how quick turnaround time can equal happy customers, the alliance created a service network that strives for rapid response.
``If a customer is broken down, he can call our 800 breakdown number and somebody's going to give him a quick response and get his truck up and going at a fair price,'' said Scott Perschbacher, Bandag's national account manager.
The alliance-the brainchild of three Bandag dealers-was spawned in early 1999. It is similar to Bandag's Emergency Tire Assistance (ETA) program, which began in the late 1980s. Seeing the benefits of joining forces, and the ability of cutting fleets' costs per mile, the group sought to cover the entire northwest region. Ultimately, invitations were sent to 20 dealer principals. Mr. Perschbacher said all 20 responded favorably.
>From there the program was born. In three years it has grown to include 24 dealerships, more than 80 tire service centers and 500 service technicians in the seven-state area.
``What we all did is got together as a group of independent tire companies and decided to be smart about this and become formal,'' said Frank Dooley of Dooley Commercial Tire Services Inc. in Sacramento.
``It's just a form of sophisticated networking. It's just what the world has evolved into. We all used to rely on the manufacturers to provide programs, and they can provide good programs, but they come out and they're white or they're black. The trucking world operates somewhere in the middle of that.''
Alliance members' customers have the benefit of being able to rely on the service network even when far from their home base. As Mr. Dooley explained, a driver in Sacramento can get the same service and prices from a dealer in Boise, if he needs it in a pinch.
The benefit to the dealers is being a part of a much larger entity. The alliance has in excess of 1,500 service trucks.
While individually the participants are small companies, Mr. Dooley said, ``collectively, we're a band of companies. I can tell (a customer) I'm a part of a network of 1,500 service trucks. I'm as big as any manufacturer out there.''
The network also includes associate dealers that are not Bandag dealers. But, as Mr. Dooley pointed out, these dealers are an integral part of the alliance in that they allow truckers in rural areas to have access to a quick return to the road. Somebody who sells retreads but doesn't have a retread shop would be considered an associate member. He said those were typically ``mom and pop'' shops.
``The truckers pay a premium for the service,'' he said. ``But he assures himself of having the incredible response time. The goal is...taking the waste out of the trucking industry, get the trucker rolling and don't hurt them.''
Neither Mr. Perschbacher, Mr. Dooley, nor Bandag would talk about the cost of the alliance's service, but Mr. Perschbacher assured it was a worthy price. ``The issue here is really service. It has nothing to do with price or time,'' he said.
He went on to explain that killing downtime is as important an issue as any facing the trucking industry, especially in the post-Sept. 11 economy.
``Every time you lose a minute out there, it's tough,'' he said. ``You might save their load. You might save them from losing a customer.''
While Bandag's ETA program is nationwide, the originators of the Northwest alliance saw the benefit of a regional program, since, they said, the majority of trucking is done on a regional basis. ``People said, `Well, I'm not going to New York,''' Mr. Perschbacher said. ``We thought if we could tailor it to the Northwest, that would be the way to go.''
Bandag oversees the program by monitoring every service call and keeping track of the response time to make sure customers are returning to the road as quickly as possible.
While fleets benefit from their trucks staying up and running, alliance members stand to gain or at least maintain business from those taking advantage of the alliance's wares.
``It's very easy to go out and sell everybody a tire,'' Mr. Perschbacher said. ``It's much harder to ensure he'll get proper service. For Bandag it provides a very sound program. No matter where a guy's going, he'll be taken care of.''
Mr. Dooley, whose dealership is a $6 million operation, said there was no certain way to measure the effect of his alliance membership on his bottom line. But he knows it's there and he knows it's positive.
``Every time somebody provides in this dealer network a service for one of my customers,'' he said, ``it increases the density of the armor that protects one of the customers that I do business with.''