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Ode to independence

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Tire Business Reporter Kathy McCarron

PORTLAND, Ore. (April 9, 2013) — It's a known fact that Americans value their independence.

Yes, sometimes we'll give in to conformity and unity to fulfill a need, but deep down, we don't like being told what to do.

The same holds true for independent tire dealers, as I observed first-hand at the recent Tire Factory annual dealer meeting in Portand, where "independent" holds a more literal meaning than just the industry term for a business unaffiliated with a tire manufacturer.

During the meeting there were more than 100 tire dealers representing large and small operations, some with one and some with multiple stores, located in rural, suburban and urban communities. Yes, they all had the Tire Factory name attached to the end of their individual dealership names. They wore red Tire Factory uniform shirts. And they stocked similar point-of-sale materials and tire brands in their stores.

Yet they all seemed fiercely independent, even in today's market where consolidations and retail chains seem to be squeezing out individuality.

Case in point: During the first day of the meeting nearly all the dealers complained about poor margins and not knowing the best procedure for pricing the tires they receive through the Tire Factory buying group. So the Tire Factory management proposed standardized pricing, posting suggested prices on the website and even selling tires online.

During a break-out session, the dealers discussed at length among themselves the problems and the proposals, and they came back with an almost unanimous opinion: YES, they need help with pricing and margins, but NO, they don't want to be told what prices to offer or they don't want a network-wide online store.

They said a common pricing structure wouldn't work because competition and market conditions vary from region to region in the 14 states in which Tire Factory outlets operate.

They said they wanted the freedom to set their own prices and deal with customers their way. "People buy from people," one dealer stated, which spurred a round of applause from fellow dealers.

So, despite a common need, these dealers still insisted on the independence to operate their businesses their own way. (Cue strains of Sinatra's "My Way.")

Even Tire Factory CEO John Kreidel acknowledged the sentiment: "We know you don't like people telling you what to do — you're independents," he told the audience.

He noted that despite all the advantages and solutions the buying/marketing group offers, the one obstacle for a potential new member is the reluctance to add "Tire Factory" to the end of the independent dealership's name.

It's understandable then, that Mr. Kreidel — who oversees the marketing group of about 180 dealer members and tries to implement programs to improve the network's sales and operations — likened his job to "herding cats."

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Tire Business reporter Kathy McCarron likes cats — and their independent streak.

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