When Bill Jarvis wanted to find a way to increase his sales in Continental and General products last fall, he found a golden opportunity when he held a drawing for a night out in Chicago.
Mr. Jarvis, owner of Schererville, Ind.-based Midwest Tire & Auto Repair Inc., had turned to Jeremy Lewin, his territory rep at Continental Tire North America Inc. (CTNA), for advice on how to go to market with his Continental products. Mr. Lewin suggested holding a drawing for Chicago Bulls tickets, complete with dinner and a limo ride-a $500 value. Because Mr. Jarvis is a member of Conti's Gold associate dealer program, CTNA helped Midwest Tire put the promotion together and paid for the prize. The result: Midwest Tire's Continental and General tire sales jumped 15-20 percent during the month-long promotion.
``I don't know if I would have thought of it on my own,'' Mr. Jarvis said, referring to the promotion. ``I guess I could have done it on my own. We're a big enough dealer. It's just having innovative ideas that set us apart from everyone else.''
Mr. Lewin, now national manager of CTNA's Gold program, said Midwest Tire's experience is just one example of the benefits dealers on the Continental Gold program receive for committing to buy at least 1,000 units per year from CTNA. Dealers receive co-op dollars for advertising just as many marketing groups offer, and territory representatives also will tailor ads and promotions to fit a dealer's market and situation, Mr. Lewin said.
``We do get down to the grassroots level,'' he told Tire Business. ``I think that's one thing we have that's kind of rare.''
Mr. Jarvis, who also flies the American Car Care Centers (ACCC) Inc. banner, described the Continental Gold program as ``fantastic'' because Gold, together with the Michelin products he sells as an ACCC dealer, have given him a true multi-brand business. He said Continental high-performance products fill a void he had in his offerings for customers with older performance vehicles, and he's noticed that the program has raised his margins because of the discounts he gets from his distributor.
``The Gold program helped us to be more profitable in the tire business because if you give them the units, they give you the extra discounts,'' he said.
Launched in 2001, the Gold program was born when CTNA gathered its dealers and asked them what they needed from the Charlotte-based tire maker to sell its tire lines successfully, according to Mr. Lewin. The result: a program that charges no fees yet offers advertising/promotional support, volume discounts, warranties, store signage, point-of-sale materials, protected territories and training and education.
``This program isn't meant to make a dealer into primarily a Continental General dealer,'' Mr. Lewin said. ``What we look for is something more reflective of our market share. We wanted a program that's realistic.''
He said many Gold dealers, like Mr. Jarvis, are aligned with ACCC and couldn't commit another percentage of their overall product offerings to CTNA, hence the volume-purchasing requirement is low. Dealers must buy a minimum of one passenger and one light truck tire line and order a minimum of 100 passenger and light truck units for the initial investment.
Mr. Lewin, who became national manager of the Gold program May 4, said Gold caters to multi-brand dealers and allows them to stay on other manufacturer programs or marketing groups.
``We think of our program as one of the easier programs out there to be a part of,'' he said. ``We don't want to come in and tell you how to run your business. We just want to make it easy for you to buy our product, and we want to make it rewarding for you to buy our product.''
After three years, Continental Gold has 1,500 participating dealers and 75 points of distribution, all in the U.S., he said. Changes to the program based on dealer feedback will be coming in 2005. Some under consideration include initiatives that would double CTNA's retail points of sale. Mr. Lewin declined to elaborate, saying details would be coming at year-end.
The Gold program is CTNA's only associate dealer program and is the firm's way of encouraging dealers to carry its tire lines while at the same time shedding its past image of being ``the deal of the day guys,'' he said.
``The old perception of Continental General is that our products were out there on deals and that kind of impeded us from selling full lines because people didn't consider our products as full lines,'' he explained. ``They would buy more by size instead of by product line because we would come out with these deals. Now, we're moving towards full, quality product lines that dealers can now program into their retail offering.''
Mr. Lewin noted that under the Gold program there are always deals, but pricing is more consistent now than in the past.
Like many marketing groups, Gold offers training- available on CD-ROM and DVD-on its product lines. Salespeople can take a test on the CD-ROM that's directly e-mailed to CTNA headquarters. In turn, they can receive a certificate to hang on the showroom floor showing they are experts on CTNA products, he said. At a dealership's request, CTNA personnel will visit and conduct an on-site seminar, he added.
``When we go and do it, we use a lot of those materials along with whatever else we need to touch on specifically,'' he said. ``If they want their guys to learn about plus sizing, we'll use our materials and add whatever specific information they want in their training.''
Ultimately, Mr. Lewin said CTNA would like to see its distributors take part in the educational process by holding training classes or events for dealers.
One benefit of Gold that Mr. Jarvis said has helped Midwest Tire get tires to customers fast is UHP Express-a service where CTNA ships ultra-high performance tires directly to dealers to reduce customer wait time. CTNA bills its distributors for the freight, and the distributors bill the dealers.
``If you needed something in a hurry UHP-wise, traditionally you called Tire Rack,'' Mr. Lewin said. ``They would ship you the tire, and the customer would pay Tire Rack directly. This allows (dealers) to remain in the loop on UHP sales, I would say.''
Mr. Jarvis noted that CTNA made a special exception for him by using UHP Express to ship to him broadline tires his distributor didn't have.
``Normally, it's supposed to be only for UHP tires, but Continental has made exceptions to take care of the consumer,'' Mr. Jarvis told Tire Business. ``I think they're really customer-oriented right now and they're really on the right track.''
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Conti Gold program at a glance
* Dealers must purchase a minimum of 1,000 units annually.
* The minimum initial investment order is 100 units.
* There are no fees required.
* Dealers service national accounts and Ford Motor Co.'s Around-the-Wheel car dealership tire program.
* Dealers receive point-of-sale materials.
* Retail sales incentives and marketing promotions are available to dealers.
* Dealers can receive ultra-high performance tires direct through the program's ``UHP Express'' feature.
* Dealers receive Conti training materials and certification.