CHICAGO (Nov. 5, 2004) — Dick Gust's first involvement with tires came when he was 7 years old, painting used tires, he said, “because my dad ran an auto center.”
Since then, Mr. Gust has been involved in just about every aspect of the tire industry—except as a tire dealer. He believes he's the first non-dealer to become president of the Tire Industry Association (TIA) or its predecessor organizations.
“I'm clearly the first tire recycler to become president,” he said. As TIA president, he added, he wants to make sure that the organization focuses on every aspect of the tire industry and gives every constituency in the industry a voice. “One thing that I think I can do is bring everyone together to work toward the issues that we have in common,” he said.
From chemistry to recycling
Soon after obtaining his degree in 1970 in chemistry and mathematics from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Mr. Gust started at the Detroit technical center of the former Uniroyal Inc. He spent eight years there, mostly in product development, before joining Sears, Roebuck and Co. “in the laboratory end of their business.” He was with Sears in 1985 when he first met Lewis Lakin, CEO of Lakin General Corp. Mr. Gust has been with Lakin ever since, serving now as president of Lakin Environmental Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Chicago-based Lakin General. (From 1992 to 2003, Mr. Gust served as executive vice president of Lakin General. Lakin Environmental was created in 2003 as a stand-alone unit of Lakin General.)
In his early years, Mr. Gust worked chiefly with Mr. Lakin on bringing bead-to-bead retreading technology in the form of the Achievor “remanufactured” passenger tire, to the U.S. Mr. Gust's connection with Sears continued in that Sears was the distributor of the Achievor tires Lakin made.
In the 1980s, Lakin was involved in a dispute with the Federal Trade Commission over whether to change the FTC Tire Labeling and Advertising Guides to allow the use of the term “remanufactured” to advertise Achievor bead-to-bead retreads.
Regarding the FTC's decision earlier this year to abolish the guides, Mr. Gust said, “We felt they were helpful in certain areas. A number of us in the industry felt they needed considerable updating, but we felt they served a purpose. However, we don't feel their abolition will have much of an effect. The industry has come a long way toward recognizing the professional tire sales techniques that are necessary today.”
By the mid-1990s, the Achievor brand was dead—killed by the influx of inexpensive new passenger tires that effectively ended passenger retreading in the U.S. From then on, Mr. Gust said, Lakin has concentrated on tire recycling.
“Lakin was involved in recycling long before it was fashionable,” Mr. Gust said, noting its longtime production of die-cut goods such as bushings and snow-thrower blades.
“One thing everybody needs to understand is that the concerns of tire recyclers are virtually identical to those of tire dealers,” he added. “We're concerned about insurance costs, the price of diesel fuel and legislative activities. In fact, one reason we've been so involved in industry organizations over the years is because we were concerned about government issues.”
Mr. Gust was instrumental in the formation of the Tire/Rubber Recycling Advisory Council, and TRRAC will be one of his priorities as TIA president, he said.
An eye on government
Mr. Gust was co-chair this past year of TIA's Government Relations Committee, and government issues will have a high priority in his presidency. Compliance with the various provisions of the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act took up a lot of the Government Relations Committee's time and will continue to do so, he said.
TIA also will continue to champion the Motor Vehicle Owner's Right to Repair Act, he said, and is working closely with Bandag Inc. and Michelin North America Inc. on the question of federal excise taxes on retreaded tires.
In its insurance activities, TIA will emphasize health insurance issues, he said, including a push on Capitol Hill for passage of an Association Health Plan bill that will allow professional associations to pool their members to bargain for multi-state health insurance policies.
Mr. Gust also made it plain that TIA has not given up on the idea of a checkoff program, in which tire manufacturers and dealers would be assessed a small percentage of their profits to fund an industry training and public education program. The idea of such a program dates back to the presidency of Steve Disney, he noted, and subsequent TIA presidents Tom Raben and Larry Morgan made it a high priority.
Mr. Gust plans to make a renewed push for it.
“We have a public perception problem in our industry and an ongoing need for education,” he said. “A checkoff program is an ideal mechanism for funding these very important things. We need to do more groundwork, talk to the people in the field and work more closely with them to develop a program to achieve our strategic plan.”
The first thing Mr. Gust is doing is jettisoning the name “checkoff.”
“That name means nothing to most dealers,” he said. “We've developed a new acronym—the TIRES Program, for Tire Industry Research, Education and Safety Program.”
One problem is that the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA), with which TIA would have to collaborate on such a program, is skeptical because of the successful legal challenges mounted against checkoff programs in the milk, pork and beef industries.
“I've had no personal discussions with the RMA, but we plan to reach out to them next year,” he said. “We've agreed to work jointly with the RMA on several issues.”
TIA will work with the RMA on TREAD Act issues, including the tire pressure monitoring system final rule, according to Mr. Gust. Also, the RMA has expressed an interest in supporting TIA in issues important to the aftermarket, such as the Right to Repair Act and state annual safety inspections, he said.
“By demonstrating we can work together with the RMA on issues of mutual interest, perhaps they'll understand why we're working toward a TIRES Program,” he said.
One of Mr. Gust's top priorities, he said, will be to strengthen ties with state tire dealer associations. He is establishing a State Association Executive Council, chaired by TIA Secretary Tom Wright and by Shaw Jared, executive director of the Tennessee/Kentucky Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association.
The council's emphasis, according to Mr. Gust, will be on coordinating activities between TIA and the state associations on issues of mutual benefit. “We are looking forward to developing a much closer relationship with the state tire dealer associations,” he said.
Another priority is to bring to fruition a concept Mr. Morgan first brought up at the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA)/International Tire Expo trade show in Las Vegas two years ago: TIA certification of tire stores.
TIA has planned two sessions at the Nov. 2-5 SEMA Show to discuss and develop a certification program, Mr. Gust said. John Adams, president of Big O Tires Inc., is in charge of those sessions, he said.
“The certification program will encompass all aspects of a dealership,” Mr. Gust said. A store's appearance, training and certification of technicians and training in professional sales techniques will all be part of the program, he said, adding that with any luck the association will be ready to unveil it by January.
Mr. Gust is proud of the fact the World Tire Expo will return to Louisville in 2005. The Louisville show will place special emphasis on recycling, retreading and education, he said. It also will feature a one-day Tire Industry Executive Summit, bringing together executives from all branches of the industry, as well as a Government/Industry Day sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Also, Mr. Gust will emphasize TIA outreach on the international and government levels during his term in office. Anne Evans of Tyres 2000 Ltd. is heading an effort to attract more industry participation from Europe, Central and South America and Asia, he said. Also, as previously announced, TIA plans a legislative summit in March in Washington for TIA members to meet with their elected officials to push for legislation important to the industry.