For the past year, Tire Industry Association (TIA) President Larry Morgan has worked toward improving the industry's image and increasing tire dealer membership and participation in the association. His efforts have brought him both satisfaction and disappointment.
Reflecting on his term, Mr. Morgan said his most significant accomplishments were encouraging member participation-membership rose 58 percent from 2003's total of 3,200 members-and putting TIA on solid financial footing.
``We got a lot of people in the industry to at least recognize who TIA is and what we do and to actually stand up and give us some dues and support us,'' he told Tire Business. ``That had a big impact financially.''
Though its audit is still in the works, TIA expects to report a profit of approximately $560,000, a turnaround from a $728,000 loss posted last year, and Mr. Morgan attributed the profit to a combination of factors.
``First of all we did a line-item budget for the first time, and we broke those line-item budgets down by committee,'' he explained. ``Each committee understood that they didn't have the liberty to go spend without prior approval.''
Closing TIA's Louisville, Ky., office and training center earlier this year provided the association with a savings of $90,000 annually, according to TIA Director of Operations Sandra Martinez. Mr. Morgan said closing the Louisville center was a difficult decision but one members accepted without complaining.
``Everybody thought initially there would be some sensitivity,'' he said. ``It's been a non-issue, really.''
Committee budgets were re-viewed at monthly executive committee and board meetings, he said, and when members requested expenditures, TIA would examine if there was offsetting revenue for that request. TIA also saved money by bringing the majority of its accounting services in-house-a move that enabled it to access profit and loss statements seven to 10 days after the close of the month instead of a month and a half later.
With some extra cash in its coffers, TIA is putting together a database that will replace 13 individual systems the association has been using, Mr. Morgan said. When the new system is in place, TIA staff members will be able to access member and dues information more efficiently.
He began his presidency touting the need to rally the tire industry behind a checkoff program-a funding mechanism that would have advanced consumer education and training programs. True to his word, Mr. Morgan went to bat for the proposal, talking it up at a number of dealer meetings. But earlier this year TIA had to shelve the plan when the Rubber Manufacturers Association withdrew support for the idea due to concerns over judicial scrutiny.
The proposal is now on ``cruise control.'' TIA hasn't given up on it yet and will again try to build an industry consensus around the idea, he said. The group still is analyzing the status of other checkoff programs and believes it's still a viable program. Mr. Morgan, who believes the industry needs a checkoff, noted that if consumers are ever going to pay for tire technology, they need to be educated about it and what it does for them.
In the midst of defining a checkoff structure, Mr. Morgan found the RMA's about-face on the proposal disappointing.
``I've yet to find anybody in the industry who disagrees that something needs to be done,'' he said, referring to the industry's image. ``We disagree on how to do it.''
He acknowledged that TIA probably needed to communicate better to the industry concerning a checkoff program and its ramifications.
``There was a lot of misinformation, some undocumented comments, a lot of people defining it, and maybe that was our fault,'' he explained.
``The reason we didn't define it better in the beginning is we had agreed to RMA that we would work together before we did....The communication just broke down and got a little bit out of hand.''
Mr. Morgan also had some strong words for the RMA regarding its lack of support for the checkoff.
``Sometimes people get in groups and pretend to be united,'' he said of TIA's and RMA's checkoff meetings. ``Then when they go out and go on their own, they're far from it. I can tell you that RMA appears to be united when they meet together, but on an individual basis, everybody's got their own agenda.
``That was a disappointment to me to see that happen, when I would hear one thing and see something else,'' he added.
When asked if there are alternatives to raise the industry's image besides a checkoff, Mr. Morgan replied that he didn't know of any ``other options except a slow boat to China that will never gain much momentum if the industry says, `No, we don't want a checkoff.'''
To rebuild support for a checkoff, Mr. Morgan said the association plans to reach out to the industry at the upcoming Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show in Las Vegas by distributing a questionnaire about the issue and how dealers think such a program should be implemented.
Like many TIA presidents before him, Mr. Morgan traveled extensively to state association meetings to try to drum up support for the national association and get people involved.
He held monthly, formal conference calls with TIA's committee chairmen-both individually and corporately-to improve communication and produce results.
Mr. Morgan credited Paul Fiore, hired as business development director last year, and Wilson Beach, director of sales, for TIA's membership increase-among both large and small dealerships. Both men, as well as the rest of TIA's staff, were assigned to assist a particular committee's work.
Other ways TIA reached out to dealers under Mr. Morgan's watch included creating a state association committee, chaired by Dick Johnson, chairman and CEO of American Tire Distributors Inc (ATD).
The result was that TIA held a summit with the executive directors of the state and regional dealer associations and asked them what TIA needed to do to improve relations with them and how to work together for the industry's benefit.
At the SEMA show, TIA's executives will meet with state association executives and directors to ``line-item the things we can specifically do together to improve our relationships,'' Mr. Morgan said.
TIA also formed a global council to recruit international members.
``We budgeted for a considerable amount of trips to the main shows in various parts of the world,'' he said. ``We've gotten a substantial increase of members from foreign countries and some dues as well but definitely are in the process of improving those communications.''
One of the results of TIA's committees working together is that the association has improved its relationship with RMA by developing five strategic endeavors both associations have agreed to work towards.
Mr. Morgan said those endeavors will be discussed in detail at the SEMA show and comprise the following goals:
* TIA will take charge of creating a tire-pressure-monitor training guide;
* TIA and RMA will partner in efforts to comply with the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act;
* TIA and RMA will study and respond to rolling resistance issues raised in California;
* Both associations will work together on the issue of tire aging; and
* TIA and RMA both will promote a national model vehicle inspection bill.
TIA also is considering an affiliation with Northwood University of Detroit, which, along with the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association and the Motor Equipment Manufacturers Association, has created a ``university of the aftermarket.''
The program, offered through Northwood, features online sales and management courses for sales employees in the automotive aftermarket.
``It can be fine tuned for the tire industry,'' Mr. Morgan said of the program. ``Right now, it's more designed for automotive stores and things of that nature, but we've looked at the criteria and found it would be really easy to adapt....We think that will be a big thing that we can put forward.''
Two years ago, TIA announced at the show that, as part of a four-pronged strategic plan, it would roll out a store certification program that would involve dealerships complying with guidelines developed by a TIA-coordinated task force.
Mr. Morgan said the project has taken longer than expected, and he said he thinks it will be ready to roll out during the first quarter of 2005.
Missing `wow' factor
Besides this year's failed attempts to get an industry consensus on a checkoff, Mr. Morgan acknowledged TIA has a lot to do, particularly in ``branding'' the association so that young, talented dealers will want to join and participate.
``One of our biggest problems is branding TIA,'' he explained. ``We made more presentations this year than TIA's made in the past five years combined. We went to so many state association dealer meetings. Practically at all of them there was a representative from TIA there giving a very specific overview.''
TIA representatives also attended manufacturers' and wholesalers' dealer meetings to explain the assocation's mission and services to attendees and to sell memberships and training materials.
Mr. Morgan personally attended the ATD and American Car Care Centers Inc. meetings to talk to dealers about TIA, but he admitted that TIA is still looking for a ``wow factor'' that will draw new dealer members.
``I was desperate to find something that TIA could offer that would make a membership almost mandatory, that everyone would just kill to be a member of TIA because of that wow factor,'' he explained.
``We knew it wasn't going to be easy. We still don't have it. We haven't found that one thing that makes everyone want to join, but we're still looking for it.''
Colleen Wood, TIA's director of marketing, told Tire Business that the association is considering some programs that potentially could provide that ``wow factor,'' but TIA hasn't reached any decisions on those proposals.
She said TIA's main marketing efforts since she came on board earlier this year have focused on the World Tire Expo, new brochures for the Commercial Tire Service and Automotive Tire Service training programs and formulating a paragraph that clarifies the association's history for all press releases and promotional pieces.
Mr. Morgan said he believes it's a matter of time before TIA's brand awareness will become prominent, particularly since there are no competing trade associations.
One issue TIA also is looking to possibly change is governance as far as shortening the time frame for an individual to become president and whether certain bylaws need to be modified to allow younger, talented dealers to attain board positions, Mr. Morgan said. He declined to elaborate.
``We're looking for a way to tap the industry's best talent,'' he said. ``We would like to change some of the bylaws to get the board members to identify people in the industry who are very talented. We had some extremely talented people not win board elections because there's apathy about voting.''