Despite bleak financial times, the estimated 1,350 independent Goodyear dealers and dealership employees attending the tire maker's 2009 dealer meeting heard a positive message: That a combination of product innovation, seizing current market opportunities, aggressive marketing and plain hard work would see them and the company through the downturn.
The number of attendees at the meeting, Feb. 1-4 in Fort Washington, just outside of Washington D.C., actually grew slightly from the 1,340 who came to the 2008 Goodyear dealer meeting in Dallas, when the nation's and industry's financial situation looked considerably less dire.
We really love our decision to go ahead with this conference, and from your applause I sense you do, too, said Robert J. Keegan, Goodyear chairman and CEO, in his Feb. 3 keynote speech at the meeting.
Mr. Keegan and Richard J. Kramer, Goodyear president of North American tires, reiterated the meeting's positive theme, with Mr. Kramer noting in his Feb. 2 speech, Many tire companies canceled their (dealer) meetings this year because of the economy, and that's understandable. For us, this was an investment, not a cost.
Not only did Goodyear need to meet with its dealers face-to-face in this economic climate, but its dealers needed to talk to each other, both executives agreed. In times like these, they said, it's crucial for the whole Goodyear organizationincluding its independent dealersto work together to pull through and achieve success.
While 2009 won't be an easy time for the company or its dealers, this is actually a time for optimism for Goodyear, Messrs. Keegan and Kramer said.
The tire business is very different than a year ago, but it's still a great business to be in, Mr. Kramer said. You're in a business that sells products people need and people use. It's not like you're selling eight-track tapes in an iPod world.
Tires are not a discretionary purchase, not a purchase you can put off indefinitely. Unless they establish a national monorail, people are going to keep using tires, and that's good for us.
Everyone will have to make hard decisions to survive and prosper, Mr. Keegan noted.
You're all thinking about doing things you haven't done before, he said. Think about them, but not too long, then do them and move forward.
Innovation and talent
Goodyear officials pledged to supply dealers in 2009 and beyond with the most innovative tires on the market.
We have not cut back one iota on our pledge to deliver new products, Mr. Keegan said. Innovation is the lifeblood of our strategy, and will remain so.
The company announced 12 new products in its consumer tire line alone, the most innovative of which were the Assurance Fuel Max all-season tire and the Wrangler MT/R tire with Kevlar.
Designed for the mid-tier market, the Assurance Fuel Max succeeds the original Assurance tire Goodyear introduced in 2004. The new version offers 27-percent less rolling resistance than the original Assurance without sacrificing traction or treadwear. This translates to 4-percent better fuel economy, saving 2,600 miles or $200 worth of fuel over the life of the tire, the company claims.
The tire comes with a limited treadwear warranty of 65,000 miles. A few Assurance Fuel Max sizes are being shipped now, Goodyear said, and the full line of 27 sizescovering 80 percent of the auto tire marketshould be available by April.
The Wrangler MT/R with Kevlar boasts a layer of DuPont Co.'s Kevlar aramid fiber in the sidewall, giving the tire 35-percent more sidewall puncture resistance than its predecessor model, Goodyear said. Its wrap-around tread allows for enhanced sidewall traction in deep mud, sand and rocks.
Goodyear gave attendees a taste of the new Wrangler's off-road performance through a ride-and-drive event. The tire maker chose a vacant site near the hotel and turned it into an off-road obstacle course complete with rocks, sand, logs, a 40-degree hill and lots and lots of mud.
The Wrangler MT/R with Kevlar will be available in 30 sizes starting in March, fitting all 1/2-ton, 3/4-ton and 1-ton pickups as well as other off-road vehicles such as the Jeep Wrangler, Nissan Xterra, Toyota FJ Cruiser and Hummer F2 and F3, the company said.
New commercial tires
In the commercial tire section, Goodyear introduced four tires for the trailer, regional and waste-hauling markets. It also announced expansions in its FleetHQ road service program, which has helped more than 62,000 trucks get back on the road since its inception 12 months ago, the company said.
While Goodyear and its dealers pride themselves on innovation, both can't continue to innovate without the most talented people on their teams, according to Mr. Keegan.
We need to have the best talent we can find and nurture in our companies, he said. Your differentiation from your competitors is your people and the talent you have in your organization.
We're building that talent, Mr. Keegan said. Our goal is to build generations of people who can take our company to a whole new level.
The worst thing a tire maker or dealership can do, Mr. Keegan said, is to panic at the bad economic news, or to sit back and try and ride it out without doing anything to seize the market opportunities that exist right now.
Be confident that what we've done together, are doing together and will do together will have a great impact on our businesses going forward, he told dealers.
Our goal is to have a successful year, and we can do that. When the economy rebounds, we want to be positioned for outstanding success. There will be times when we won't be having fun in 2009. But what it will be is a springboard for future success.