With one eye on the present and the other on the future, Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. has launched a program aimed at strengthening dealers both now and later.
The first sessions of the Cooper Advanced Management Program (CAMP) were held May 21-23 in Findlay. The same group of dealers will participate in two more sessions, one in the fall, the other after the first of next year. The second session also will be in Findlay, the third perhaps in a warmer location, the company said.
Cooper compares its one-of-a-kind program to an executive MBA track, minus the thesis.
``It's a much higher level than a typical dealer seminar, which might be four hours,'' said Greg Ring, Cooper sales and marketing training manager. ``This was something like 15 hours of training. You have entry-level courses, mid-level courses and higher-level courses. This was a very high level.''
The first session focused on financial management. Subsequent assemblies will cover leadership and performance management, human resource questions and answers, sales and marketing management, legal management and asset management.
Also akin to an MBA program, only the best and brightest participate. Dealers were selected based on recommendations of territory managers, who chose Cooper/Mastercraft dealers whom they believed to be the best candidates and the best fit for the program. ``Students'' came from all parts of the country.
``We have a guy from Trenton, N.J., talking to a guy from the Los Angeles market, and they find out they are much more alike than they thought,'' Mr. Ring said. ``Other dealers are facing the exact same challenges, and they're secure about that. There was a lot of exchange of ideas and techniques that people went through.''
In some eyes, more of that would have been helpful, in addition to the planned coursework.
``I'd say it was appropriately paced,'' said Craig Questelle, store manager for Raben Tire Co. in Marion, Ill. ``There were times when some of us got a little information overload. If anything I think we would have liked more interaction with each other and less teaching, but that's kind of tough with financials.''
The fast-paced learning environment was perfect for Mr. Questelle, who has been in the tire business less than two months after coming over from a position in the auto industry.
The importance of inventory control and keeping on top of it, as well as monitoring receivables and maintaining policies were several of the lessons he said he learned.
``What it has allowed me to do has been to get more involved in the financial aspects of it,'' Mr. Questelle said. ``There are a lot of things I have to learn. Whether it's an auto dealership or a tire dealership, they're very similar. This made me feel like I could contribute right away.
``Everyone walked away with something, even if it was just common-sense basics. I'm learning more every day. One thing I've learned so far is that no two days are alike. There's nothing usual about business with tires. You've got so many things being thrown at you.''
Mr. Ring said Cooper's objective is to provide business skills training and educational opportunities to dealers. CAMP courses are designed to meet the challenges facing independent tire dealers. But with at least one eye on the future, the tire maker also wants to make sure dealers have good succession plans in place to ensure a business can continue successfully when ownership changes.
``I think what the real vision is, is to make everybody better dealers, both in the short term and the long term,'' Mr. Questelle said.
A variety of the business seminars were conducted by experts in the field.
Mr. Ring estimated that at least three-fourths of the seminars were led by Cooper managers-both upper and mid-level-including CEO Tom Datillo.
``We know the issues,'' Mr. Ring said. ``By the time you bring someone else in and try to educate them on your business and on your terms, it's just easier to do it this way.''
He said the CAMP program will be a ``staple of dealer training efforts'' and that current plans are for a new group of dealers to go through the sessions each year.
Only one-third of the way through the program, Mr. Questelle could be its spokesman. The Illinois dealer gave the CAMP session a steadfast endorsement.
``If someone asked, `Should I go to this?' I'd say absolutely,'' Mr. Questelle said. ``I guarantee you'll learn something from it.''