Expect the unexpected…Embrace new ideas…Keep forging ahead. Those were the key phrases used by Bill Bainbridge, director of brand communications, in his opening remarks at Hankook Tire America Corp.’s recent dealer meeting.
Some 100 tire dealers from the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico couldn’t have asked for a better location than the Ritz Carlton in St. Thomas of the U.S. Virgin Islands for the Jan. 31-Feb. 4 annual meeting.
All things considered, 2009 wasn’t a bad year for Hankook Tire Co., which achieved record global sales of $3.9 billion, an 18% increase over 2008.
Recently appointed president of Hankook Tire America, Soo Il Lee, said, “The company posted an operating profit of $446 million, which was a considerable increase over the previous year. To give this achievement some perspective, this means that Hankook Tire has practically doubled its global sales in just the last five years.”
Lee said that in 2009 Hankook sold approximately 71 million tires worldwide and is targeting 80 million tires in 2010, with a real target of 100 million tires within five years.
To the delight of the gathered North American dealers, Lee said, “Ambitious? Yes we are. And I assure you that we are going to continue to make appropriate investments in research and development, manufacturing efficiencies, capacity expansion, and marketing programs that support our ambitious growth strategy.”
In North America, Hankook reported, 2009 tire sales were up 8%. “In spite of the dramatic decrease in new car sales and the economic recession, Hankook’s total tire sales and topped $840 million dollars for the first time,” Lee told dealers.
“We attribute our success to the partnerships we have forged with our dealers. Our mission remains the same: keep forging ahead, delivering market-driven, high quality products and providing exceptional value for the consumer and profitability to the dealers with our products,” he said.
Hankook’s other new kid on the block, Todd Hershberger, isn’t all that new to the tire industry. After a 22-year career with Goodyear, Hershberger said he is delighted to be part of Hankook. As the new senior vice president of sales and marketing, he defined for dealers that “our relationship with you will continue to be based on value and profitability through quality products and services.
“That is our Number One value or relative worth to our dealers,” he said. “Our Number Two value is branding, so that more consumers know our brand and trust it. The third element in our relative worth is you, our dealers. We can have the best product quality and a dynamic brand building campaign, but it’s nothing without the best dealer organization in the industry and we’re proud to be partnering with you.”
The fourth and last of Hershberger’s relative worth elements was price. “Reasonable price to the dealers and a reasonable price to the consumers. Consumers buy because they have to and consumers are looking for value. And that’s what Hankook Tires are all about.”
Now that it has some 400 dealers and 3,500 points of sale and closing in on $1 billion in annual sales is Hankook looking for a different type of dealer to continue its growth?
According to Hershberger, the dealer profile Hankook seeks remains the same.
“From my perspective, as I looked at Hankook prior to joining the company, one of the things I saw was a company that was very thoughtful about its distribution. I think that’s a strength.
“When we look at opportunities, we consider who the customer is and the impacts across the whole range of our customers,” he said. “So we don’t go into a new market and sign up just anyone. We build partnerships with dealers that are going to be long-lasting. We don’t want to sign up someone who isn’t going to be happy with us and vice-versa.”
“The most important factor between suppliers and buyers is a win-win situation,” Lee added. “A one-way relationship will not be long-lasting. The reason our company overcame the difficulties everyone faced last year is because of those partnerships.
“We finished out the year with growth,”Lee said. “Part of the reason for that is the quality of our products and our investments in marketing.
New Products Set
Hankook isn’t wasting any time in building brand value in North America. The company introduced a range of new consumer and commercial products at the meeting.
New on the passenger side are the Ventus V2 Concept, a “base” UHP tire designed for economy and comfort; and the all-season Optimo H724, first introduced at last year’s SEMA Show.
The Ventus V2 Concept features compounding designed to extend tread life and improve snow traction. Beginning in June, it will be available in 22 sizes for 15- to 17- inch wheel diameters. Eight sizes will be designated extra-load.
The Optimo H724 will be available in March in nine sizes, with 30 more sizes introduced by the end of June. The sizes, 26 of which are blackwall and 13 with white lettering, range from 13- to 17-inch in diameter.
On the medium truck side, new products included:
DL11, a SmartWay-certified long-haul drive tire, features a new fuel-efficient tread compound, according to the tiremaker.
DL07, a long-haul drive tire that eventually will replace the DL01, features superior tread traction, a 31/32-inch deep tread depth and a new sidewall design, Hankook said.
AL11, a SmartWay-certified long-haul steer tire, features a new fuel-efficient tread compound, enhanced decoupling groove and a new sidewall design, the company said.
AH24, a regional-haul all-position tire designed to promote long life with new compounding and an extra-wide and deep tread pattern.
DH06, a regional-haul drive tire, features an open shoulder design, a 28/32-inch tread depth and wide tread grooves.
The DL07 is currently available, while the remaining medium truck tires will be available in the third quarter. All the offerings will be available in four sizes: 11R22.5, 11R24.5, 295/75R22.5 and 285/75R24.5.
In closing, according to Billy Granatstein, president and CEO of La Cie Canada Tire in Montreal, “I’m delighted to be a part of the Hankook Tire family. We have recognized tremendous grow of the product within our marketplace and to the dealers we sell to. We have the opportunity to see the application of ultra-high performance to winter tires within our seasonal conditions that are always changing. The products continue to prove their value to our customers.”
Jim Enger, president and owner of Northeast Ohio’s Enger Tire and 2009 Tire Review Top Shop Award winner, brought Hankook into his product mix about a year and a half ago. “The reaction from our customer base has been fantastic. We needed to offer something a little different and our customers have simply embraced the line. Hankook fit our product screen perfectly.”
Click here for our exclusive interview with Bainbridge, Hershberger and Lee.