Through mud pits, rock crawling, gravel, loose sand and all types of rough terrain, Kenda Tires was out to prove that their products aren’t for those concrete princesses. In fact, during its four-day Kenda Light Truck Boot Camp amid the Arizona mountains, “recruits” experienced Kenda products firsthand as they traversed back-country terrain meant to showcase the performance capabilities of the company’s light truck tires.
“All we ask is that you keep the Jeeps paint-side up,” Ed Koczan, Kenda automotive sales manager, joked with the nearly 40 dealer and distributor participants in attendance.
Over a three-week period, Kenda invited three groups of its Traction associate dealers to Arizona for a deep dive into the company’s products, their development and the brand’s value proposition, as well as a hands-on experience using its tires, during its seventh annual Light Truck Boot Camp. A classroom session followed by traction demonstrations of Kenda’s tires in mud, sand, rock and silt filled the first day at Wild Horse Motorsports Park. The next day, dealers and distributors piled into 10 Jeeps and drove north to Prescott, Arizona through various terrains on a road aptly named “Backway to Crown King,” a 27-mile off-road trail that’s rated as “moderate” to “difficult” among various off-road forums.
“The reason we do this is to provide you with a unique experience about what we do and what we’re about,” Koczan told dealers describing the in downtown Prescott.
Along the way, participants jumped in and out of Jeeps to experience Kenda’s light truck tires – namely the Kenda Klever A/T2, R/T KR601 and MT KR29 – and compared their experience against Kenda’s higher-tier competitors. Obstacles dotted the trail – from winding, narrow dirt roads that dropped off into valleys to rock crawling, in which experienced off-roader Mike Higgs, Kenda’s central U.S./Candian regional sales manager, instructed participants to maneuver through with the slightest press on the gas and turn of the wheel. The aggressive sidewalls and biting edges of the tread patterns on Kenda’s light truck products were definitely put to the test.
“We race on the same product that you guys sell,” Higgs expressed, highlighting the durability of Kenda’s light truck product line.
As dealers and distributors made their way through the tall pines and sandy roads of Prescott National Forest, Kenda’s sales team reminded them – the last group to take to the trail – that the tires they were relying on to make it through were the same ones from the start of the boot camp.
“These are really educated tires,” Higgs explained, adding that the tires had traveled more than 250 miles on and off-road. “You’ll really get an idea for what happens when the consumer gets them and runs them.”
During the two-day trek, Koczan urged dealers to ask themselves two questions as they drove on Kenda Tires and compared them to competitors: First, can I position Kenda as a more premium brand in my shop? And second, Do you see any performance differences that justify the higher cost of other brands?
During the trek on the Backway to Crown King, Kenda’s sales team asked dealers and distributors to take note of the different performance characteristics of the tires they drove on with Koczan’s two questions in mind. For Kenda, the light truck boot camp has been a way to demonstrate what they feel is their market differentiator: premium performance at a value price.
“We like to think of ourselves as a premium Tier 3 brand,” Koczan told dealers. “We want to straddle that line between Tier 2 and Tier 3 and be at the top end of that value price point.”
Koczan said not only does Kenda want to be that value price point for consumers, but it also aims to be the brand for independent tire dealer profitability, with dealers able to make upwards of a 40% profit margin on Kenda products. To do this, Kenda doesn’t do special consumer promotions that eat into dealer profitability, and it keeps its Traction associate dealer program simple.
“We very much focus on the independent tire dealer,” Koczan said, adding that Kenda does not sell product to big-box retailers like Costco, Mavis or Monro. “We have no intention of getting away from that.”
As a way to cater to dealers, Kenda, a Taiwan-based tiremaker that will celebrate its 60th anniversary next year, aims to be a “full-line brand” for dealers. Koczan said this means “we try to offer everything… so, pick a size, and there’s a Kenda for that.”
“It makes it easy for you guys,” he continued, adding that this helps the brand be competitive with other full-line brands in the market. “Kenda can be your one-stop-shop. Kenda can be your house brand.”
While dealers saw Kenda’s product line be used and abused off-road, its team made a point of explaining to boot camp “recruits” the process behind the development of its automotive tires.
Dan Shavers, manager of tire development for Kenda Tires, took dealers through the step-by-step process of how Kenda tires are developed, taking a closer look at the technology and testing that go into its light truck products. This includes a mudflow test for its tread design and various endurance and durability testing done by Kenda staff in a lab, on test tracks and by third-party testing groups.
“Pretty much any type of off-road terrain you can think of, we’ve tested our tires on it,” Shavers told dealers, as he detailed the various equipment engineers utilize in Kenda’s American Tech Center in Akron, Ohio, that help shape each tire’s performance attributes. Shavers also gave dealers a sneak-peek into a few next-generation products Kenda has in the works.
“This is an iterative process,” he added. “We repeat the process until we get what we want.”
In showing dealer profitability with the Kenda brand, the team also explained the reasons for structuring its dealer program in a “lean, neat and simple” way, said Rob Schussler, east coast sales manager.
Schussler explained that Kenda’s Traction associate dealer program is set up to “allow you [dealers] focus on what you do best.” While the team promises upwards of a 30% margin on Kenda tires, it also has a spiff program in which counter professionals can earn money on Kenda sales. In addition, Schussler said new additions to the program next year will include an online store where dealers can buy POS items, displays, banners and Kenda swag, as well as an e-learning platform, which is slated to go live in Q1 of 2022.
The Growth & Return on Bootcamp
With mud caked into Jeep wheels and small rocks nestled between tread lugs, dealers and distributors returned from their journey on the Backway to Crown King excited to go back to the shop and sell Kenda product.
“Every single year, we put this together and it gets bigger and better,” Koczan said, adding that a fourth session will most likely be added in 2022. “We develop brand champions from this.”
Koczan said Kenda works with its distributor partners to track dealer sell-out 12 months before and after they attend the Light Truck Boot Camp, and “on average, we see a 40% increase on dealer sellout volume” after attending, Koczan said.
“It really flips the script on what a dealers’ perspective is of us and how they can position the Kenda brand and make more money on it,” Koczan added.