Continental Tire North America Inc. plans to relaunch its General brand at this year's Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show in Las Vegas-with an eye toward the brand's all-American heritage and young tire buyers.
With a new image, Conti also plans to kick its brand marketing into gear to get consumers interested in both the Continental and General brands. Within two to three years, the Charlotte-based tire maker wants to launch a national advertising campaign for both. Travis Roffler, Conti's director of marketing, said both brands need a boost, but General actually has a higher awareness in the U.S. than Continental.
``We want to play off of that and utilize that in our brand strategy as we really relaunch the brand...at SEMA this year to bring out a new look and feel for the brand,'' Mr. Roffler told Tire Business.
That image will seek to combine General's reputation for reliability and durability, he said, with a more aggressive, hip and energetic image for young buyers. Mr. Roffler said there's still room to grow among the youth market where many tire makers have set their sights, including Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.
Some baby boomers also would be tapped by that image, he said, as they look back fondly on their youth, as evidenced by the rejuvenated muscle cars popular with Detroit.
Mr. Roffler said he's also keeping an eye on the tuner market and its evolution, but his primary focus now is revitalizing and shoring up the Conti and General brands.
Overall, Conti plans to cast General as a leader with light truck tires and Continental with high performance and ultra-high performance, he added.
In the meantime, Mr. Roffler said the firm is working to upgrade its product lineup.
``The brand equity is out there, we need to expand upon that,'' he said. ``The biggest challenge is getting those product lines out.''
This effort will take three to five years to complete for both brands, he indicated.
Richard Richardson, owner of Best for Less Tire Pros in Temecula, Calif., said at Conti's recent Gold dealer meeting in Las Vegas that most of his customers accept the General name but don't have strong feelings about it. Michelin and Goodyear, he said, stand out much more in their minds.
``General's just like an OK, intermediate tire,'' he said. ``(Customers say) `That's fine, put it on my car because I don't really care.' That's what they do.''
Mr. Roffler, who acknowledged that marketing for both brands has been ``insufficient,'' plans to start with regional marketing initiatives that are centered on dealers before going national. In fact, it's with General's existing dealers that Mr. Roffler hopes to find the most growth.
On his first day on the job after leaving Toyo Tire (U.S.A.) Corp. this spring, Mr. Roffler met with Conti's dealer council, which included, he said, some of the biggest names in the tire business with huge buying potential.
Their presence indicated to him that the tire maker can exceed its growth projections if it grows just with dealers already on its books.
``We don't need to inundate the market and go out and sign up hundreds of new dealers,'' he said.
``We need to just grow within the dealers we currently have.''
Other tire makers, such as Kumho Tire USA Inc., recently have said they want to grow their share of dealers' business as well. Mr. Roffler said that's where he hopes the all-American image will come into play.
Given the choice, he said, most tire buyers would like to buy American if most traits were equal.
``We're really going to use the American heritage and use that to revitalize the General brand and create an American image about an American brand,'' Mr. Roffler said.