Changing Public Opinion
If you remember one message from reading this magazine today, let it be this:
The public needs to know that the tire industry makes and sells only the highest quality products.
The tire industry today is the focus of unprecedented attention from consumers, the media, Congress and the judicial system. And, unfortunately, the public is receiving mixed messages about our industry.
While many focus on recent events, the big picture is clear: the replacement tire market in the U.S. alone is a $20.9 billion business. It’s a pillar of the economy. And this industry has grown to a $20.9 billion market by making some of the best consumer products available. It’s that simple.
According to data published by NHTSA and the Rubber Manufacturers Association, consumers drive over 2.4 trillion miles each year in non-commercial vehicles. That’s 2.4 trillion miles! Without tires, the freedom of personal mobility in today’s society would come to a grinding halt. Consumers depend on a healthy and strong tire industry.
We have an advantage in this battle of public opinion that the media, attorneys and other groups do not. Every year, millions of customers walk into tire stores. And each person walking into your store can be educated.
According to a recent TANA survey, 98% of tire industry professionals agreed that consumers rely on tire dealers for information on the safety and maintenance of tires. That means virtually every tire consumer gets their tire information from tire dealers.
This is the critical point: Over time, working together, all tire industry companies and their employees have the power to change public opinion.
We can educate customers about tires, and the fact that our industry manufactures and sells some of the safest and highest-quality products available to the public today. Products produced using the greatest technological advances. Products that deliver trillions of reliable miles each and every year.
This is a difficult request because it asks some competitors to work together. An unfounded sales approach that preys on consumer fears and media hype by suggesting "our tires are safe and theirs are not" does not further the industry or help consumers. That message leaves consumers unjustly skeptical of all tires.
While honest, vigorous competition can and should always exist, the industry Ð not as separate companies, but as a collective group of industry professionals must work together to properly educate customers that tires are well-engineered products, manufactured to the highest quality standards. We cannot afford to individually use mistruth and ill-founded information to gain an advantage when the health and vitality of the entire tire industry is at stake.
How important is it to have our customers believe we sell products of the highest quality? It’s absolutely crucial. We can no longer allow the national media to have the loudest voice about what happens in our industry. No one can tell our story as well as we can.
Most of you have decades of experience as successful tire dealers, commercial dealers, wholesale distributors and manufacturing and marketing executives in this industry. If a change is going to take place, we are the leadership. All of our employees who interact with consumers must be thoroughly trained to provide proper advice about tire application, installation, maintenance, and other factors that affect tire performance.
After the sale, some aspects of tire performance depend on the consumer. This behavior includes the care, maintenance, and regular inspection of tires, as well as good driving habits and other vehicle-related factors. Consumers simply must take their share of the responsibility. But they must be educated about their important role in tire safety and performance.
The time to act is now. No massive public relations campaign or industry-wide effort will work as well as the simplest and oldest method of changing public opinion: talking to every customer face-to-face. Each employee must educate customers about tires, and the fact that this industry makes and sells quality products.
The effort begins with you. Educate each customer, friend and relative one at a time. Together we can change public opinion.
Ross Kogel is the executive vice president of the Tire Association of North America (TANA).