Steve Akridge, who already has made the leap in his career to state association administrator from tire dealer, is making another leap-a historic one-this year.
In September, Mr. Akridge, the executive director of the Virginia Automotive Association, was named to a one-year term as the Tire Industry Association's first state association executive liaison. He takes very seriously his mission to develop closer ties and greater cooperation between the national and state tire organizations.
``Communication is probably the key word,'' Mr. Akridge said from his office in Midlothian. ``It's a matter of staying in touch and assisting each other on issues of mutual interest. In the past, someone from TIA has visited a lot of states to ask for their help on national issues and to pledge TIA's support on state issues.
``But this could take it to a higher level, as we assist each other on national and state issues.''
Mr. Akridge said the question of a state association executive liaison first came up in 2004 from Dick Johnson, chairman and CEO of American Tire Distributors Inc. and chairman of TIA's State Association Committee. Mr. Johnson invited Mr. Akridge and four other state association heads to a meeting in Huntersville, N.C., with TIA Executive Vice President Roy Littlefield and other members of the TIA hierarchy.
``Dick really wanted this to happen,'' Mr. Akridge said of Mr. Johnson, who worked with TIA staff to make the necessary bylaws change to allow the appointment of a state liaison to the TIA board.
Asked what possible pitfalls might exist in gaining a closer relationship between TIA and the state associations, Mr. Akridge said a major one might lie in the programs and services that TIA and state associations offer.
``TIA has the programs it offers, and some of the state associations' programs may overlap, so there may be some competition,'' he said. ``But by talking and working together, there may be a chance to join forces with all our members.
``It's safe to say that not every state association member joins TIA, and some TIA members don't belong to their state associations. If there's an issue we can collaborate on, individual dealers will be the main ones who benefit.''
The national and state associations already have a tradition of working together smoothly on legislative and regulatory issues, Mr. Akridge noted.
``Whenever a state association had an issue, TIA was there to help, and vice versa,'' he said. ``There's been a real spirit of cooperation over the years, and I hope that will continue.''
One bone of contention between TIA and the state associations has been the national group's proposal for a ``checkoff'' program, under which tire manufacturers and dealers would pay a small percentage of their profits to fund consumer education, safety and employee training initiatives. In November 2003, the Texas Tire Dealers Association went so far as to pass a resolution opposing a tire checkoff program.
Mr. Akridge, however, said he didn't think that checkoff programs were such a divisive issue any more. ``I know that at the SEMA Show, TIA will make a presentation about checkoff programs to the state groups,'' he said. ``I can't speak for all the states, but I think most of them are just waiting for more information.
``It's too soon for states to form an opinion on a checkoff program until they get more information.''
Mr. Akridge has been executive director since 1990 of the Virginia Tire & Automotive Service Dealers Association, which changed its name in 2004 to the Virginia Automotive Association. Before that, he owned and operated two tire stores, known as Akridge Auto Center, in Richmond, Va.