What Tim Reece jokingly considers a fault is just the kind of support the Rubber Manufacturers Association likes to get.
Mr. Reece, owner of R&W Tire & Turf in Boone, organized a free tire inspection event during the RMA's second annual National Tire Safety Week, April 27 to May 3. The dealership inspected 125 cars in five hours.
But he didn't stop there. Mr. Reece led up to the event with advertising, had the local radio station broadcast live from the event, lined up sponsorships from Bridgestone/Firestone and the county landfill, collected giveaways for participants from balloons to tire gauges and got matching shirts from BFS for his staff.
``My biggest fault is I can't put an ad in the paper and leave it at that,'' Mr. Reece joked. ``I just get carried away.''
But Dan Zielinski, vice president of communications for the RMA, said he was ``impressed'' with Mr. Reece's so-called fault. Mr. Zielinski now is gathering feedback from tire dealers about their programs during the week. With the feedback, he hopes to gather more and better ideas for dealers who want to participate next year.
The Car Care Council also is looking for responses from its National Car Care Month, held in April for the first time this year. The event, which includes free vehicle inspections, is an extension of the council's Be Car Care Aware campaign that formerly had been in October.
Susan Jones, a spokeswoman for the council, said a consumer survey to gauge response to the promotion still is in progress.
``Hopefully we can get a feel for how much money was spent as a result'' of the inspections, she said.
Before National Tire Safety Week, the RMA had lined up hundreds of dealerships to join in the effort. Last year, about 3,000 stores had materials about the safety week; this year, about 5,000 stores had the materials on hand, Mr. Zielinski said.
``We certainly have a ways to go,'' he said.
Whether the dealerships offer special events or hand out RMA brochures for a week, he said it all adds up.
``If the RMA's the only entity involved in it, it's not going to go anywhere,'' he said.
Mr. Reece said he decided to get involved after reading a Tire Business editorial April 28 urging tire dealers to participate in the event and educate consumers about tire safety.
While he plans to continue the event next year, he already has thought of changes. First: Scrap the balloons. He had gathered helium balloons and coloring books, thinking a lot of families would drop by. But participants ended up being older, and only about 20 families had their vehicles inspected. The county landfill supplied car trash bags to carry the items.
``I really think the majority of them were interested in getting that tire gauge or getting information for how to check their tires'' instead of the gimmicky stuff, Mr. Reece said.
R&W also gave away a set of four tires and had others-cleaned well beforehand-on display as markers for the inspection lanes.
Though bills still are coming in, Mr. Reece estimated he spent more than $1,000 plus wages for two technicians to help out.
Participating in the event for the first time, Double M Tire Factory in Newberg, Ore., also hosted tire inspections complete with free air gauges. But the single-outlet dealership, which sells primarily Goodyear, Kelly, Dunlop, Cooper and Hankook brands, also offered a free class on May 3. The class covered the main aspects of National Tire Safety Week: pressure, alignment, rotation and tread.
People who signed up for the class also received a road safety kit that included a flashlight, air gauge, battery jumper cables and other emergency items. Debbie Davenport, an owner and office manager of the dealership, said only four people participated in the class, but many customers asked about the store's programs after the fact.
``People saw it, and that was a good thing,'' she said, adding the store gave away 25 to 50 tire gauges total.
Ms. Davenport said she's not sure if the event will continue at Double M next year because she and her father recently sold the business to another tire dealer. Still, she said the message about tires is a valuable one.
``You can't just roll on them and forget about them, and I think that tends to be the case,'' she said.
Les Schwab Tire Centers Inc. added the National Tire Safety Week mantra to its regular advertising, including special events at stores in Portland, Ore., and Seattle, said Brian Capp, director of sales and marketing for the Prineville, Ore.-based retailer.
``It was a good public service message we wanted to make sure people heard,'' he said.
Many of Les Schwab's more than 300 outlets already offer tire inspections daily, he said, but the RMA's safety week was highlighted by a focus on the brochures and marketing message.
Sullivan Tire Co. Inc., participating in National Tire Safety Week for the second year, placed an extra emphasis on distributing the RMA brochures and information, said Tom Wilson, who is in charge of promotions for the Norwell, Mass.-based retailer.
He said the dealership started offering free tire inspections and air fill-ups about six years ago as gas stations in the area began ditching their free air pumps and full service.
``We were really disappointed no one was doing that anymore,'' he said.
The effort intensified when the RMA launched its education campaign last year. Sullivan stocks the information year-round, but the company makes an extra effort during the designated week.
For example, Mr. Wilson said the company's regular mailings include the RMA materials. The information also is given to everyone who comes into the dealership, regardless if they buy anything. A number of the dealership's some 40 retail locations also offer free tire gauges.
Mr. Wilson said the store managers report incredulous customers who are shocked either by how well their vehicles run on properly inflated tires or by the lack of a sales pitch during the education campaign.
``By just basically passing out the brochures, many customers will return to purchase tires,'' he said. ``They're their own salesperson.''
The week-long campaign fit nicely into Sullivan Tire's overall marketing, which focuses on tire safety and awareness of vehicle maintenance. Though it's hard to pinpoint exact numbers, Mr. Wilson said the approach improves sales and customer loyalty because the dealership seems like a ``neutral party'' that the customer can trust for honest advice.
And educating consumers is sorely needed, he said.
``Most people only care about the gas gauge and the ashtray,'' he said.