If you race on Sunday, customers might have more confidence in your brand by Monday.
It's not as catchy, but it could be a revision for the popular sentiment about the value of motorsports in the tire industry, especially for Bridgestone/Firestone.
Al Speyer, executive director of motorsports for Bridgestone/Firestone, said the importance of motorsports is primarily its goodwill and brand exposure rather than immediate results at the cash register. Even so, some of the tire maker's market-specific racing promotions can raise retail sales as much as 10 to 15 percent in local markets, he said.
``In the tire industry, if a consumer isn't in the market for tires, just because a race comes to town doesn't mean they're going to go out and buy tires,'' he said, though he added that tires are a very visible component of race vehicles that build brand awareness.
That idea is particularly applicable to Bridgestone/Firestone, which this season is celebrating the 10th year of its return to open-wheel racing. The tire maker rejoined in 1995-initially challenging Goodyear-after a 20-year absence, right before the league split into Champ Car and Indy Racing League (IRL).
Mr. Speyer said the tire maker announced its intention to return in 1993, five years after Bridgestone Corp. bought Firestone Tire & Rubber Co., leading many dealers to speculate about the Firestone brand's future.
``Bridgestone Corp. out of Japan wanted to send a very strong message that Firestone was very important, particularly here in North America,'' Mr. Speyer told Tire Business.
The tactic worked. From 1993 to 1999 BFS averaged 20-percent sales gains in the Firestone brand, he added. ``It was just kind of a spark that energized the whole company.''
Motorsports also came to the tire maker's aid during the 2000-2001 Firestone tire recalls. Mr. Speyer said many news reports speculated that the company would drop out of racing at the height of the recalls, but BFS emphasized to its dealers and employees that it would not pull the plug.
``We've done exactly what we said we would do, and I think that's given us a lot of credibility with the dealer channel for sure,'' he said.
Though not on such a large scale, some dealers interviewed by Tire Business said they view motorsports similarly. Rick Benton, owner of 20-outlet Black's Tire Service in Whiteville, N.C., sponsors two race cars in the Hooters Pro Cup Series. He sees racing's value as primarily building relationships with his wholesale customers. Just this year he split off his wholesale operations and named it BTS Tire & Wheel Distributors.
``It's more of a goodwill deal for doing something for the customer,'' he said, adding he hosts customer appreciation days, vendor tie-ins and radio remotes among other activities.
For Mr. Benton, who has been involved with racing for 12 years, an effective motorsports campaign is all about time and effort instead of cutting checks and waiting for an immediate windfall.
``That's how you get the benefit,'' he said. ``You can't put your name on a race car and think that, `Oh gosh, I'm going to do more business,' because it don't work like that. You add up a lot of money and you don't have the return to show for it, if you do it like that.''
Lee Ellis, a retired owner of Ray's Tire in Green Bay, Wis., agreed that a successful racing program is hard work. He was heavily involved with racing under General Tire's program about 12 years ago, but the dealership still is involved with some programs, particularly Kumho's entrance into Championship Off-Road Racing (CORR).
In both cases, the programs required trackside efforts, relationships with the racing teams and other marketing efforts on the part of the dealer.
``Throwing money at it is not the way to go,'' he said. ``You got to put up some money with some of the people, but you've got to become involved.''
Mr. Ellis added that racing programs helped retail sales in the company he's owned since 1965, but he knows other dealers whose programs weren't as successful.
In fact, in a recent unscientific Tire Business online poll, 49.1 percent of the 57 respondents said they don't participate in motorsports and have no plans to start. Another 19.3 percent participate in local racing events while 14 percent join tire makers' programs.
On average, Mr. Speyer said most dealers prefer to hitch onto a tire maker's bandwagon for the national coverage and lower cost. He added that about 90 to 95 percent of local dealers participate in market-specific race promotions sponsored by BFS.
``Some of them will get involved on a local basis in some other programs, but those are the exception, not the rule,'' he said.
BFS's Bridgestone brand is the single tire supplier to Champ Car through the end of this year, and Firestone is the sole supplier for IRL through the end of 2006. ``We're just starting some of those negotiations now, but yes, there are plans to renew them,'' Mr. Speyer said.
Responding to speculation that BFS would be interested in entering NASCAR when Goodyear's single sponsorship contract expires at the end of 2007, Mr. Speyer said the prospect seems challenging.
``That would be a huge step for us, and really I don't know where that's going to go,'' he said. ``I think Goodyear has the inside track there.''