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Editor's Notebook

Getting Over the Hump Just Takes Sustained Positives

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Turn on any game – football, hockey, basketball, even soccer – and you will hear the word “momentum.” At least once, but often a hundred times.

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It’s almost like you’d expect to see a jersey with the name “Mo Mentum” on the back.

“The Big Mo” is played by commentators as if it were some giant invisible hand that skillfully manipulates a playing field and participants as though they were on a chessboard. As if outside influences will somehow determine the inevitable course of the match.

We all know there is no such thing, of course. There is no giant being moving us around like pawns and knights and bishops. There is no mystical will that shines more positively on one team vs. another (although any Clevelander would argue otherwise).

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And without getting all philosophical about it, momentum is really nothing but a string of positives. A lucky streak, if you were in Vegas. In reality, karma balances that all out in the end.

But I’m sorry, folks. I’m getting off the common sense train. I am grabbing the voodoo dolls and lucky coins and searching for every four-leaf clover in my yard.

Because what we need right now is some good, old-fashioned MOMENTUM!

We need three straight singles and then a gap double followed by a nine-pitch defensive inning. We need to nail six straight treys from the corner off of five consecutive stops. We need to score two TDs in under 30 seconds, and then recover a second on-sides kick.

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I’d even take a goal in a soccer game. Any goal.

Thanks to the regular input of a few dozen tire dealers around the country, we track monthly retail tire and service activity. We compare each month to the one prior and to the same month a year earlier. It gives us a pretty good picture of what’s going on where it really matters – your cash register.

It also lets us see patterns as they develop, if there is still a seasonal element to tire/service sales, or the direct impact of programs like Cash for Clunkers.

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The only pattern we have seen over the last two years looks more like a Rorschach test than an organized bar chart. Sure, we’ll see a couple of positive months, with tire and/or service sales taking a year-over-year bump. And then things come crashing down. Karma comes calling early.

We get through the first two syllables – “mo-men” – and then it peters out. There is no “tum.”

Yes, what we really need is some momentum. Five or seven or even eight straight months of positive, even if it’s just a point or two. We need to start feeling comfortable again. Not “cautious optimism,” (How sick are we of that term?) but “comfortable.” As in: “I’m feeling comfortable that we will see steady, consistent growth.”

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Sure, we want improved sales – and any resulting profits. We all want to move some hoops and cash some checks. We love the smell of freshly molded rubber in our warehouse, because the fresher the smell, the more tires you’ve sold. But this is less about money than it is mental health.

We want to feel better about things, to see that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel – even if it’s a well-used flashlight. We have a natural inclination toward being positive, so facing the last three years has been pure torture. Getting back to “normal” is all about getting that feeling back, and storing a little of that energy – like a battery – for those gray days.

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How do we get there? With unemployment hitting 9.8% (the official number) in early December and no real end to that in sight, buyers will continue to withdraw. So we need to get more aggressive out there, not with pricing but with delivering the kind of products and customer service and involvement that brings recommendations.

The value proposition for the customer has changed from “getting more bang for the buck” to “feeling comfortable that I’m not misspending my money.”

Because, at the end of the day, your customers are looking for some momentum, too.

* * * * *

I’m extremely disappointed that I missed the inaugural Global Tire Expo. And even more disappointed that I missed seeing everyone in Vegas. But those unplanned vacations will do that for a guy.

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I’m on the mend now, though, and feeling better every day. Appreciate all of the kindness and positive thoughts. Promise that I’ll be back on the horse soon.

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