Goodyear's top executives said all the right things to the 1,200 independent tire dealers and their employees attending the company's recent dealer conference in Orlando, Fla.
They fawned all over them, telling dealers how important they are to the company's recovery in North America.
They admitted past mistakes and promised to fix them.
They attended focus groups during the meeting to understand dealers' concerns better.
And they laid out a four-point plan, incorporating suggestions from these groups, aimed at turning around the fortunes of the ailing tire maker in the North American market, which makes up half of the company's corporate revenues.
They even looked the part.
As one tire dealer pointed out, the executives ``got out from behind the counter''-or in this case, the podium-open collared, and talked candidly to their dealer audience as if to emphasize a new spirit of open communication and cooperation.
Goodyear's leaders have seen the light and clearly want to regain the dealers' support, knowing that independent tire dealers sell two-thirds of the replacement tires in North America and that a strong and enthusiastic dealer base will help them return the company to profitability.
As new CEO Robert Keegan put it: ``Our plan is not about Wall Street-it's about you. When you win, we win. We're here to help you build your business.''
But now the hard part begins. While the company and its executives put forth a convincing pitch, the key lies in its execution, which will do more than anything else to win back skeptical dealers. In the past, Goodyear has attempted to court its dealers with varying degrees of success and failure. Now it must deliver on its promises.
The tire maker must make ordering tires easier and less complicated, improve fill rates, reduce management bureaucracy to speed up decision-making and produce the tires and lines dealers need in their showrooms.
These tasks won't be easy to accomplish, but neither are they so complicated that they can't be achieved.
And Goodyear has got a big advantage in its favor. Most of its dealers have a vested interest in helping the manufacturer reach its goals. Their dealerships are heavily leveraged with Goodyear products and with the Goodyear name, so their success is inextricably linked.
What's more, many carry an emotional loyalty to the tire maker formed over decades of doing business together.
Goodyear's executives outlined a believable turnaround plan at the meeting, and they correctly linked much of its success to the firm's still-loyal dealer customers.
If they can succeed in addressing the needs of this formidable group, the company's recovery could quickly begin to gain momentum.