At the end of a phone conversation the other day, the owner of one of North America's largest independent tire dealerships exclaimed, The tire industry sure has changed.
It has, I replied. It's not the same any more, is it? It seems a lot more difficult and harder to make money.
It really is, he said with a sigh.
I have heard that sentiment a lot lately from tire dealers. Their stories are basically the same. The business is more demanding, competitors more aggressive, profit margins skim-pier, customers more price conscious and suppliers more difficult.
Car dealerships, at one time considered more of a customer of independent tire dealers, are now viewed as tough competitors. There are more government regulations, more tire sizes, personnel issues, not to mention customers researching, buying and making service appointments online. It's a lot for any business owner to comprehend, especially those at smaller dealerships.
The changing nature of the retail and commercial tire business has become such a top-of-mind topic that the New England Tire & Service Association, at its annual convention a year ago, offered a seminar on the subject. In what might be described as a townhall meeting, dealers swapped stories, lamented the sad state of affairs, and shared ideas on what it will take to survive in such a changing environment.
One thing became clear: This is not your father's (or mother's) tire and service market any more.
To help independent tire dealers compete in today's more aggressive tire business, a number of organizationsincluding Tire Businessare offering educational and training programs.
All of them are good and fill different needs.
Northwood University's new Tire Leadership 21 program is aimed at key dealership employeesthe next generation of tire dealership leaders. In a sense, it is like an executive management program for tire dealers. Class work is conducted in two separate, week-long sessions, the first at Northwood's campus in Midland, Mich., the other at the university's campus in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Participants are required to complete an individual project that is required to drive $25,000 in savings or revenue to their company.
The intensive program, limited to 30 participants, is taught by the university's faculty and covers a lot of ground: finance, accounting, business strategy, management, corporate vision, leadership, operations, industry trends, marketing and social media, team and corporate culture, the customer experience, critical thinking and problem resolution.
The Tire Industry Association (TIA) also offers a variety of training and educational programs. These include its well-respected training and certification for automotive and commercial tire technicians and training for techs in farm and earthmover tires. To me, this tech training is a must because it hits at every tire dealership's core. It not only enhances the expertise, professionalism and safety of the dealership's tire technicians, but it's a great employee motivator.
TIA also offers a series of webinars on subjects such as How Online Engagement Can Help Your Business Grow, safety videos as well as best practices papers on topics including proper tire storage, managing used oil and the management of automotive fluids.
The association also has produced a number of consumer videos housed on YouTube that dealers can use in their showrooms when working with customers.
The videos can be found under the heading TireSafetyStartsHere.
In addition, during the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show each fall and at its annual Off-the-Road Tire Conference, TIA provides industry and dealer-focused seminars.
The International Tire Exhibition & Conference (ITEC)-Tire Dealers/Auto Service provides yet another learning opportunity for dealers and their employees.
Produced by Tire Business, this three-day event is being held this year at the Caribe Royale All-Suite Hotel, Aug. 20-22, in Orlando, Fla. Attendees will have their choice of 10 panel presentations and 45 seminars, can attend a trade show featuring leading industry suppliers and network with their peers.
The educational program is expansive, comprising 10 seminars on Internet marketing, three on sales training and customer service, five on automotive service and seven on business management. Others cover healthcare, commercial tires, technology, environmental issues, tire dealership showroom design, training and TPMS, among others.
Panel participants feature a who's who of industry leaders. Topics are: Tire Maker Presidents and CEOs; High Performance Tires; Young Tire Dealers; Commercial Tires; OTR Tires; Farm and Construction Tires; Internet Marketing; Sales Training and Customer Service; Tire Dealer Best Practices and Retread Best Practices.
I think all of the industry's educational offerings are exceptional and savvy dealers would be remiss in not reviewing all of them to determine what best fits their needs.
Education and training are the lifeblood of any dealership and essential to staying ahead of the competition. Take advantage of what's offeredfor yourself, your employees, your business.
Dave Zielasko is Tire Business publisher/editor. He can be reached at [email protected] or 330-865-6131.