Continental Tire North America Inc. (CTNA) is changing how it goes to market by listening to dealers first and giving them input into its decisions.
Like some other tire manufacturers, CTNA has formed two dealer councils-the Conti business council and product council-to act as the company's sounding boards, according to Brian Miller, CTNA director of marketing and operations. The groups meet about twice a year.
``We're dealing with these guys to solicit their feedback and input in a lot of different areas, policy areas and operational areas as we continue our restructuring and business approach in North America,'' Mr. Miller told Tire Business.
The business council comprises a cross-section of large and small dealerships with either the principals or the primary decision-makers of those businesses sitting in as members, he said. The product council comprises those individuals who are considered the ``product experts'' of their dealerships, though they don't all necessarily hold equity in their businesses.
Mr. Miller said CTNA chose to meet separately with these two groups because salespeople tend to be more in tune with the marketplace while principals are policy makers. The groups number no more than about a dozen, with eight to 10 dealers and a few CTNA officials, including Mr. Miller and Andreas Gerstenberger, vice president of sales and marketing.
In 2004, CTNA parent Continental A.G. officials announced they were analyzing restructuring measures in North America, a process that resulted in the cessation of tire production at Conti's Mayfield, Ky., factory and the possible sale of its Bryan, Ohio, OTR tire plant. Forming the dealer councils and implementing ideas from some of its largest customers is another step CTNA is taking in its overall restructuring of operations, Mr. Miller acknowledged.
``I would say it's a clear piece of our strategy to get more engaged with our dealers, expand the communications to a wider audience and have the dealers' input and feedback as we bring new processes to the table,'' he said.
Both councils met for the first time last year-the product council in August and the business group in September-and will meet again in March and April, respectively, Mr. Miller said.
Len Lewin, president of American Car Care Centers Inc. and chairman of the Conti business council, said that after the September meeting he felt encouraged that a dealer council will be beneficial in the long run for CTNA.
``I think it's always a good thing when the supplier wants to hear directly from the customer, and the proof really of how useful the council will be is how well (CTNA) listens and what they do afterwards with the input from the council members,'' Mr. Lewin said.
Thus far, input from the business council has resulted in CTNA tweaking its Conti Gold associate dealer program, Mr. Miller said. The company benchmarked different programs, interviewed dealers to find out what was good and bad about Conti Gold, then reviewed the revised program with the business council before re-launching it, he explained. Prior to the business council, Mr. Miller said CTNA would have launched a dealer program first and asked for feedback later.
In February, CTNA is launching a new pricing structure based on recommendations from the business council, Mr. Miller added, declining to elaborate further.
CTNA also is working on recommendations it received from the product council, he said, including expediting supply of original equipment fitments into the replacement tire market and a nomenclature change on a new tire to be launched in the future.
Dan Beach, president/CEO of the Tire Alliance Groupe (TAG), sits on the Conti business council. He said he was impressed by CTNA's ``good-faith effort'' to listen and develop a plan to address the subjects he and other dealers raised.
``I think they're trying to make their company more customer-friendly,'' Mr. Beach said. ``They're just trying to bring together some people in the industry representing the different channels so they can hear it in one place, rather than sending out surveys.... I think they're probably looking to this type of format to help them identify their problems, to help them with the product line that they have.''