Just over a year old, U.S. Tire & Exhaust's marketing group is beginning to hit its stride, a company official said.
In that first year, the Tread Pros program, which is primarily for Cooper dealers, had to work out the details of several points-including signage and displays-plus look toward future ideas such as insurance possibilities for its 34 members.
``We dreamed the thing up with all sorts of great ideas and everything sounds great,'' said Brian Decker, a tire specialist with the program. He said the actual implementation ran into snags as tedious as customizing each sign due to individual municipality requirements.
``We're knocking them off one at a time,'' Mr. Decker said of the obstacles.
While the program irons out growing pains, officials also are looking at growing its ranks to about 50 dealers by year's end. Also, the company hopes to foster internal growth for the program in its existing locations, he added.
After Tread Pros reaches 50 to 70 members, more adjustments would have to be made for the growth, Mr. Decker said.
``Anything beyond that, we've got to look at partnering with another distributor,'' he said. ``We don't want to saturate the program and have every Cooper dealer that buys from us be a Tread Pros dealer because that would sort of water down the program.''
He said U.S. Tire-itself a member of and distributor for American Car Care Centers Inc.-is being choosy when it comes to signing on dealers. For example, he said the company hopes to keep the dealers spread out geographically, even though that's not a guarantee.
``We have made sure that territorially we're not setting people on top of one another,'' he said.
Territory is the main concern for Pete Berken, owner of Pete's Auto Repair in Appleton, Wis. His one-outlet dealership has been a Tread Pros member since its launch last year. So far, the nearest Tread Pros dealer is a comfortable 20 miles away. Mr. Berken said he hopes Tread Pros grows into a larger force-``as long as it doesn't hurt me in my areas.''
Mr. Berken has owned the shop for 14 years, but before joining Tread Pros had not belonged to another tire marketing group. But the program's 12-month warranty, signage and better pricing were hard to resist, he said, when a U.S. Tire official called about the program.
He said his signage has taken a while to be delivered, but he chalked it up to the program's recent start.
``It looks like it's going to be a good program,'' he said. ``It's just starting to take off.''
Mike Gagnon, owner of Mike's Tire & Auto in Two Rivers, Wis., said he also joined the program at its inception. The coupon book was a big attraction for him. Sent directly to consumers, the book includes rebates on Cooper tires and automotive service.
``They've been very supportive,'' Mr. Gagnon said of the program.
Mr. Decker said in addition to the warranty and coupon book, Tread Pros is looking at other programs for members. For example, it hopes to capitalize on Cooper's sponsorship of Big 10 and other college conferences-hugely popular in the Midwest-with television and radio ads during the fall football games. Tread Pros also is looking at the Cooper credit card program plus possible insurance benefits.
``We're looking at things that can benefit the group as a whole,'' he said.