When Dick Gust began his tenure last fall as Tire Industry Association (TIA) president, one of his primary goals was to strengthen the national organization's ties with state tire dealer associations.
Now, at the end of his tenure, he feels he has taken major steps toward achieving that goal.
For the first time, Mr. Gust pointed out, there is a representative of the state associations on the TIA board of directors. Steve Akridge, executive director of the Virginia Tire & Automotive Service Dealers Association, will begin a one-year term Nov. 2 as state association executive liaison, working to promote communication between TIA and the state dealer groups.
``We are reaching out to state associations and working much more closely together with them,'' Mr. Gust said. ``Letting state associations know what we're about is a key factor in achieving our goals on a grassroots level.''
One of the big motivators for TIA to seek closer ties with state organizations is its ongoing effort to establish what it calls the Tire Initiative for Research, Education and Safety, or TIRES program.
TIRES is what is commonly known as a checkoff program-in which all participants in a given industry give a small percentage of their profits to fund various efforts to improve and promote the industry. The TIRES program, as TIA and Mr. Gust envision it, would pay for a national program encompassing consumer education campaigns, personnel training programs and research and development efforts.
State dealer associations previously were leery of such a program, with the Texas Tire Dealers Association voting in November 2003 to oppose it. The Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) also backed away from the concept, largely because of court rulings that declared unconstitutional the checkoff programs for the pork, beef and milk industries.
But appeals courts overturned the pork, beef and milk decisions, removing a major objection to the TIRES program. ``We're working with manufacturers, dealers and state associations to tell them why this is necessary,'' Mr. Gust said. ``We believe in educating and training people so that they know how to work with our product.''
Mr. Gust visited more than 20 state dealer associations this year, and he said he found them all receptive to the TIRES program. ``The president of the Missouri tire dealers association asked to participate on the TIRES Program Committee. That was a big breakthrough for us.''
The efforts regarding state dealer associations and the TIRES program, however, represented only a small portion of the strategic initiatives TIA undertook this past year, according to Mr. Gust. Among the association's major accomplishments in 2005, he said, were:
* The establishment of new health, workers' compensation and product liability insurance policies for TIA members;
* The development of a training program for servicing tire pressure monitoring systems. ``This is a key element for people who need to know about tire pressure monitoring systems,'' Mr. Gust said. ``These systems aren't standardized, and people will have to know how to service all types''; and
* The publication of a new ``Work Conditions Manual'' for tire dealers.
In the government affairs arena, Mr. Gust said, TIA has been particularly active in working toward congressional passage of the Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act. ``It wasn't passed this year, but we're staying on top of it,'' he said.
The association also continues to work toward a closer working relationship with the RMA and its tire manufacturer members. ``We expect to get to a place where we can present a united front,'' Mr. Gust said. TIA has already agreed to collaborate with the RMA on its ongoing tire safety program, including National Tire Safety Week, he said. Also, RMA President Donald B. Shea and TIA Executive Vice President Roy Littlefield have started working together on regulatory issues, he added.
``In terms of cooperation, we're going forward very well,'' he said.
Mr. Gust also was pleased with the World Tire Expo held in Louisville, Ky., last April. ``That featured the very first Commercial Tire Executive Summit, and it was very successful,'' he said. In the future, however, Mr. Gust said he expected smaller, more narrowly focused events.
Mr. Gust said he had only one real disappointment: He had hoped to come forward faster with TIA's Certified Store Program. That effort, however, will be unveiled at the upcoming SEMA Show in Las Vegas.
``It's a different concept, and it involves an awful lot of work on the part of dealers,'' he said. ``It means extensive training for personnel, enhanced customer service and getting the store to look a certain way.''
Since 2003, Mr. Gust has been president of Lakin Environmental Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Lakin General Corp. in Chicago. On assuming the TIA presidency, he said he may have been the first non-tire dealer-and was certainly the first tire recycler-to assume the post.
Now that he is leaving the TIA presidency, Mr. Gust said he looked forward to finding and developing new markets for recycled rubber, particularly rubber mulch.