Perhaps it's the geography. Perhaps it's the situation. Perhaps it's the people.
Whatever the reason, Wholesale Tire Distributors' (WTD) American Car Care Centers (ACCC) Inc. program throughout five Western states is perceived to be a model of how marketing cooperatives should work.
Where else do independent dealers take a day off from their own stores to work the counter at a new ACCC dealer's grand opening? Where else do independents ``lend'' personnel to another dealer in a pinch? Where else do independents refer to their marketing program colleagues as family members?
WTD CEO Larry Nichols was one of the first wholesale distributors to join ACCC and the first to get an independent dealer signed and opened. That was 1989, and that dealer-Gary Grako, owner of Grako's American Car Care Centers in Price, Utah-still flies the ACCC flag and sings the program's praises to all who'll listen.
Today WTD services 50 ACCC locations in Utah, Nevada, Wyoming, Idaho and Colorado. Among them are 10 locations owned and operated by WTD itself under the Plains Tire & Battery banner in Wyoming and Discount Tire & Automotive identity in northern Utah.
Geography certainly plays a role in the group's cohesiveness. Scattered throughout thousands of square miles of relatively sparsely populated territory, these dealers' territories rarely overlap.
At the same time, though, dealers are highly complimentary of the standards of WTD's selection process, saying they can rest assured that a fellow ACCC dealer nearby will treat his or her customers with the same courtesy and respect they do.
Within this group, it's not unusual for a half dozen dealers to show up at a new ACCC recruit's grand opening under the ACCC banner and stay throughout the day helping that new dealer sell. In the wide-open spaces of this part of the U.S., this courtesy can involve driving hundreds of miles.
To help its dealers, WTD has created a Website-www.accctiresonline.com-dedicated to the ACCC program and offering features such as online appointment scheduling based on the nearest location and individual Web pages for dealers who choose to participate.
WTD also is developing a program for each dealer to have his or her own Web site that will offer online appointment scheduling that links automatically to each store's inventory to assure that the right products are in stock when that customer comes in for the appointment.
This feature is designed to help speed up the buying process and free up a dealer's counter personnel to focus more on selling and collecting, said Christie Stock, vice president of WTD, at an ACCC dealer meeting earlier this year in Salt Lake City.
WTD sees this development as especially useful for a dealer's small commercial accounts, which need to schedule service appointments regularly, Ms. Stock told the ACCC dealers. WTD is charging a one-time set-up fee and a monthly maintenance fee, based on volume.
Len Lewin, president of ACCC, credits Mr. Nichols and Ms. Stock for their diligence in selecting the right dealers for the program. The father-daughter team often works with a prospective member for up to a year before clinching the deal, he said.
It's this type of personal attention that creates the type of bond WTD's ACCC dealers have with WTD and each other, Mr. Lewin said.
These and other cooperative promotions help the independents grouped under the ACCC banner compete with the growing competition in the region. Big O Tires Inc. has a strong foothold in the ``inter-mountain'' states and recently opened a warehouse in Salt Lake City; Arizona-based Discount Tire Co. has opened 17 stores in the Salt Lake City area alone; and Les Schwab Tires Inc. in Prineville, Ore., has targeted the area for growth, opening 18 stores in Utah and 10 in Nevada in the past few years.
Brad Archibald, owner of Archibald & Sons American Car Care Centers in Tremonton, Utah-the newest ACCC dealership in WTD's realm-called the decision to join the program ``fantastic,...even better than I'd imagined.''
Mr. Archibald, who credits his 24-year-old son Jeff with convincing him to consider joining the program, said business at their one-store dealership nearly has doubled in the couple of months since the fourth-generation company converted to ACCC.
``I never was one to advertise before,'' Mr. Archibald said, ``but after the grand opening we have almost more business than we can handle.'' The dealership operates nine service bays in two adjoining buildings; the family business also includes a towing service, commercial vehicle roadside assistance, farm vehicle service, bulk fuel delivery, a U-Haul franchise and a convenient store.
Mr. Archibald called the April 27 grand opening ``unbelievable,'' with representatives from ACCC, WTD and Michelin North America Inc. attending, along with 10 other ACCC dealers from the area who showed up to help.
``I gotta give Christe (Stock) credit,'' he said. ``Everything she said (about the grand opening) was on target, right down to how many hot dogs to order.''
Brad and Jeff Archibald credited Mr. Nichols and Ms. Stock with having ``extraordinary'' marketing skills, both in developing the program and in helping dealers compete.
``They hand-pick who they want in the program,'' Mr. Archibald said. ``They seek out people with integrity and reputation.''
Other key features of the program the Archibalds lauded are the insurance coverage (25- to 30-percent lower premiums through group coverage), comprehensive book-keeping programs and the flat-fee structure.
WTD's ACCC dealers benefit from its overall wholesale business, which services 2,700 dealers scattered over 326,000 square miles in nine states. The company operates three warehouses-in Boise, Idaho, Casper, Wyo., and Salt Lake City-with 18 delivery vehicles accumulating 15,000 miles of driving weekly.