Surrounded by 2,700 tire dealers for a ``meeting in the round,'' Bridgestone/Firestone executives stressed that success in the marketplace involves not only the right brand lineup but also ``branding'' a company's image and services.
At its annual retail dealer meeting, held Nov. 2 in Las Vegas, BFS discussed the different ways dealers can ``chart a course'' to success, from how to build an image to reasons for partnering with the tire maker.
To emphasize these points, BFS played a video that followed the complete makeover of Cannon Tire & Auto Center in Clarksville, Tenn., a BFS dealership that hadn't remodeled since 1986. The video showed BFS's Barry Feasel, general manager of affiliated dealer operations, Rudy Beach, director of wholesale consumer tire sales, and John Baratta, director of retail consumer tire sales, critiquing the store's interior and exterior. They closed the shop for three days for renovations, then proceeded to surprise owner Ron Cannon with a modernized, attractive store.
The video, played throughout the conference in between executives' presentations on company operations, underscored the tire manufacturer's message: Selling image is just as critical as selling tire brands.
``You are not a retailer with a brand anymore than Starbucks is just a coffee shop,'' John Gamauf, president of BFS's consumer replacement tire division, told the audience from a center stage in a room resembling an arena.
Besides physical store appearance, there are other ways dealers can measure success, including a daily, steady stream of customers and lifelong customer retention, Tim Dunn, BFS's national operations manager, said. He cited effective promotions, carrying major brands and offering credit cards wielding a dealership's name as ways to build customer loyalty and achieve success.
Mr. Dunn presented another video highlighting what some dealerships are doing right, in BFS's opinion, to achieve success.
Darien, Ill.-based Quality Tire & Auto Inc., for example, sends regular thank-you letters to its customers for their patronage and reminder letters when it's time for service again. Quality Tire mails an average of 600 letters per month and receives a 65-75- percent customer retention rate, thanks to those letters.
True to their word on the need to sell image and not just brands, BFS executives gave a glimpse into a new Bridgestone ad campaign for 2005 that is sexier and has a more youthful appeal than in years past. Michael Fluck, BFS's advertising and Internet manager, told dealers that more than half of replacement tires are purchased by people in the 18-45 age group, and younger buyers have the least brand loyalty.
To change that situation, Mr. Fluck said the tire maker's 2005 Bridgestone ad campaign will continue its signature song of ``The Wheel Goes Round and Round'' to the beat of a couple dancing the tango in Dueler commercials. For Potenza commercials, an African-American couple dances to hip-hop music and raps the signature song.
The tire maker debuted later at the Specialty Equipment Market Association trade show its newest Fuzion line, the HRi. (See related story on page 17.) ``2005 is the year to get on board with Fuzion,'' Mr. Fluck told attendees.
The tire maker also announced other tires it is launching in 2005 as well as sizes it will add to existing lines. The Nashville, Tenn.-based tire maker is resurrecting the Firestone Wide Oval performance tire, reminiscent of the competitive spirit of the 1960s-era tire line. The new Wide Oval is designed for high-performance sports cars and is available in 16 popular 16- through 18-inch sizes with a UTQG rating of 320.
The Firestone Transforce HT also was unveiled during the conference. Aimed at personal and commercial service vehicles, the tire is available in Load Range E sizes, including LT235/85R16 120/116R E; LT225/75R16 115/112 R E; LT 245/75R16 120/116R E; and LT265/75R16 123/120 R.
The Transforce HT's market includes contractors' pickup trucks and emergency vehicles plus light-duty delivery vans and trucks in small pickup and delivery fleets.