A growing cadre of dealers in the Bandag Strategic Alliance are finding a competitive edge in a somewhat obscure area of business-quality management certification under the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).
More than a quarter of Bandag Inc. franchised retread plants in North America have achieved ISO 9001:2000 quality management certification in the past three years, and the retreading systems supplier is urging the operators of the rest to pursue the quality certification as well.
Bandag is encouraging its franchisees to pursue ISO certification because executives want them to have one more arrow in the competitive advantage quiver when dealing with trucking fleets, which are starting to demand it of their suppliers.
``When we talked to fleets, over and over again we heard that they valued consistency and reliability in their products,'' said Gary Schulte, product marketing manager in Bandag's Global Dealer Systems. ``Going through the ISO certification process is a good way to achieve these aims.
``We don't yet see an overwhelming push by fleets to require it,'' Mr. Schulte added, ``but it's something we anticipate happening more and more.''
Bandag is helping its franchisees work toward ISO certification through its Quality Management System, a service launched at the firm's dealer conference in 2002.
The ISO 9001:2000 certification process recognizes those facilities that have undergone and passed an intensive third party examination of globally recognized quality management system requirements. Bandag uses TUV American Inc., a branch of the German TUV technical service enterprise, for its certification process.
As of March, 85 Bandag dealer locations in North America had achieved ISO status with more than 160 other locations enrolled in the certification process. Bandag had 315 franchised locations operating at year-end 2005, according to its 10K filing.
One of the more enthusiastic converts to the ISO program is Maine Commercial Tire in Bangor, Maine, which obtained certification on its own in 2000, then recertified through the Bandag program once it became available.
``It's been about management issues,'' said James McCurdy, vice president of sales, quoted in Bandag internal dealer communications. ``We were expanding at the rate of 15 to 20 percent a year, and we needed to bring on new managers and new locations.''
Bridgestone/Firestone's GCR Tire Centers unit, which operates 29 Bandag retread plants in North America, has certified 13 of them with more in the process.
``We have worked hard to achieve this certification, and we are proud to offer our customers this added quality assurance,'' said Joe Little, director of North American manufacturing for GCR Tire Centers, in a prepared statement.
The certification process may take nine months to a year to finalize, and facilities must be recertified every three years with annual surveillance audits, Mr. Schulte said.
Bandag declined to say what the certification process costs, saying it varies widely from franchisee to franchisee, depending on several factors, including the number of plants, their age and how they've been set up.
Randy Drake, vice president of McGriff Tire Co. Inc., wasn't sure what his company had spent to certify its Mobile and Cullman, Ala., plants, but he said he's sure the company has recouped those costs and more in reduced operating costs, lower in-shop failures, fewer adjustments in the field and the potential for closing more sales.
``There's also an intangible factor,'' Mr. Drake said. ``We find our employees have more pride in what they're doing.
``In addition,'' he said, ``it gives us an edge over the competition. Everyone recognizes ISO and its impact on quality. It can help close sales.''