When he became president of the Tire Industry Association last year, Tom Raben had one basic goal-the goal, according to him, on which TIA was founded a year ago.
``Whoever is in charge, we need to focus on those things that will grow the value of our members' businesses,'' he said. Those things, he added, are member and industry services, public relations, government relations and education and training, and to constantly enhance the efforts the association makes in those areas.
When he turns the reins of the Bowie, Md.-based trade group over to Larry Morgan at the Specialty Equipment Market Association/International Tire Expo in Las Vegas, Mr. Raben can point proudly to some solid achievements made on all these fronts, with a strong base to build on for the future. Again, this continuing effort was built into the TIA charter, he noted.
``The whole thing with our association is that we developed our agenda at the very beginning,'' said Mr. Raben, the first to serve a full year as TIA president. ``The whole thing with our association is that it doesn't have a flavor-of-the-week program, depending on who the president is.''
Goal: Beefing up the image of the industry
To put it simply, Tom Raben loves tires. He believes in tires-the way Emeril Lagasse believes in food or Tiger Woods believes in golf-and he would like nothing better than for consumers of tires to share his enthusiasm.
``We have a fantastic product out there,'' he said. ``From a technical standpoint, tires are a marvel. They do a wonderful job with a minimum of maintenance, and that message needs to be out there.''
Mr. Raben made it a top priority of his presidency to find ways to counteract the negative impression of the industry created in the aftermath of the Bridgestone/Firestone tire recalls of August 2000. In that vein, he is particularly proud of the work TIA and its members did with the Rubber Manufacturers Association in the RMA's National Tire Safety Week and ``Be Tire Smart-Play Your PART'' campaigns. There is also TIA's continuing effort with the RMA's Public Relations Committee to develop a consensus strategy on positive publicity aimed at consumers.
His major goal in that area, however, has yet to be achieved. TIA and the RMA, Mr. Raben said, have yet to agree on the terms for creating a checkoff program for the tire industry.
Under this congressionally approved system, participants in an industry contribute a minute portion of their earnings to fund a general publicity and informational campaign to tell consumers about the benefits of their products. Mr. Raben cited ``Pork-The Other White Meat'' as a particularly successful example of an industry checkoff campaign.
``I wish it had progressed further than it did, but it's an issue we really believe in,'' he said. TIA and the RMA continue to meet on the issue, he added, noting that Larry Morgan also places a high priority on establishing a checkoff program.
Focus on insurance, education and training
Another high priority for TIA and for Mr. Raben is finding ways to shield tire dealers from the skyrocketing costs of health, liability, property and workers' compensation insurance. ``We are behind that 100 percent, trying to get that together to create a more affordable option for our members,'' he said.
TIA just announced a partnership with Universal Underwriters Insurance Co. to offer a comprehensive business insurance package to association members. The program will provide coverage for employee benefits, property and casualty, pollution liability, business life insurance and workers' compensation.
The association, which negotiated with six major carriers before selecting Universal, told Tire Business earlier that the availability of each type of coverage cannot be guaranteed in every state, however, because of the current legal environment and market conditions. TIA already has a carrier for product liability insurance, Mr. Raben said.
On the government front, TIA-along with the RMA-continues to fight for the passage of legislation that would allow the formation of ``Association Health Plans'' or AHPs, Mr. Raben said. Under the provisions of the legislation, small-business trade and professional associations could pool their members' resources to bargain for health insurance coverage in much the same way as major corporations do. At present, state insurance regulations forbid such bargaining across state lines; the legislation would pre-empt the states on the insurance issue.
Tied closely to the insurance issue, he added, are topics of vital and continuing interest to tire dealers: education and training.
``Better-trained employees are safer employees who will have fewer accidents,'' he said. ``That's better for the employees, for the companies they work for and for the customers they serve.''
Mr. Raben's presidency saw the rollout of TIA's Automotive Tire Service (ATS) program, essentially giving technicians who service passenger tires the same quality of certification training as in the commercial tire training program the association and its predecessor organizations have offered since 1997.
``We've trained over 10,000 folks since it's been out,'' Mr. Raben said of the commercial tire certification program. ``We've also taken it on the road. This year we took the course to 26 cities and trained over 500 people. The guys who service truck tires are safer, our industry is better, and we reduce accidents and injuries, which in turn drives insurance premiums down.''
A busy year marked by changes for TIA
The past year was a particularly busy one for TIA, according to Mr. Raben. He was thrown a curve right after taking over the presidency, when Ross Kogel Jr. resigned unexpectedly from the executive vice presidency to return to his family's tire business in suburban Detroit.
The association conducted a thorough search for a replacement, but ended up finding a stellar person for the job close at hand, Mr. Raben said-Roy E. Littlefield III, longtime director of government affairs for the International Tire & Rubber Association who had continued in that job with TIA.
The association also consolidated many of its informational efforts for its members with the establishment of its new monthly magazine, Today's Tire Industry. ``We think that's significant,'' Mr. Raben said. ``It combines so many individual mailings into one concise publication. Retail, commercial, retread-I open one magazine and everything is there.''
Back at Raben Tire, dealership rolled on
In 1972, the then-26-year-old Tom Raben inherited the management of Evansville-based Raben Tire Co. Inc. upon the death of his father, Henry ``Butch'' Raben. At that time, the company had two locations; now, it has ``about 30'' stores, Mr. Raben said, and recorded sales last year ``in excess of $85 million.''
During his presidency, Mr. Raben said, he was blessed to have something few other presidents of TIA and its predecessor associations have had: a large family still active in the business. Mr. Raben's five brothers-Phil, Mark, Larry, James and John-looked after Raben Tire while their brother was busy with TIA affairs.
``I had fantastic support from my brothers,'' he said. ``I don't think Raben Tire was diminished in any way while I was (TIA) president. My brothers picked up my load and carried it.''
Mr. Raben said he's looking forward to going back to the business he loves. ``We're planning to grow our business,'' he said. ``Sometimes that includes expanding existing operations, and in some cases that means opening new outlets.'' He added, however, that he couldn't yet discuss the future plans for Raben Tire.