If Goodyear is to recover from its current woes, its independent tire dealers will play a major role in making that happen.
Anyone who doubts that needs only to look at the remarkable recovery Bridgestone/Firestone has made in the last two years to realize how much of a difference a strong, energetic and enthusiastic dealer base can make.
It wasn't long ago that many industry observers had all but written off Bridgestone/Firestone, and the Firestone brand, in the wake of two years of devastating tire recalls.
Instead, the Nashville, Tenn.-based tire unit of Japan's Bridgestone Corp. is rebounding nicely and forecasting a $135-million operating profit this year, bouyed by higher sales of Bridgestone tires and a healthy recovery by the Firestone brand.
Compare that with Goodyear's just-announced third quarter report in which the company acknowledged a 12.1-percent decline in North American tire sales and a precipitous drop in operating earnings to $10 million from $80 million in the same period a year ago.
This reversal of fortunes didn't happen by accident. In the case of Bridgestone/Firestone, its dealers rallied around the tire maker when it faced tremendous public and government criticism.
The company had worked hard in recent years to establish a good rapport with its dealers, and when push came to shove, the majority remained loyal to the tire maker when it would have been easy to abandon ship.
Many also recognized and pointed out the unfairness with which they believed the company was being treated during the recalls.
And you can't discount the efforts of BFS's sales team. John Gamauf, BFS vice president of consumer tire sales-accompanied by auto racing great Mario Andretti-took the company's message to 4,000 dealers, strengthening relations by rallying them to the company's cause.
As a result, BFS retained most of its dealer customers and has even signed 335 additional ones.
Goodyear can take a lesson.
Many Goodyear dealers are angry with the company and don't feel the loyalty they once did to the tire maker. But there is no reason why Goodyear, which once enjoyed a dealer following second to none, can't regain that loyalty. It must again make independent dealers its No. 1 priority.
Ever since the Akron-based tire maker began years ago to expand distribution beyond its own company stores and independent dealers, it has been losing momentum.
Goodyear's independent tire dealers are one of the tire company's greatest assets.
They stand on the front lines and more often than not determine what the retail tire customer buys. They can help re-energize the company.
The sooner Goodyear recognizes this, the better.