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“The Boss” Behind New Tires, Sales Tools

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Bridgestone’s John Baratta plays talk show host, shown here with special guest Gordon Knapp, at the Bridgestone Consumer Tire Business Meeting in Los Angeles in November.

Bridgestone’s John Baratta plays talk show host, shown here with special guest Gordon Knapp, at the Bridgestone Consumer Tire Business Meeting in Los Angeles in November.

With a renewed commitment to both its dealers and “The Boss” (i.e., the customer), Bridgestone Americas’ leadership rolled out new products and strategies at its recent dealer meeting.

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The three-day Bridgestone Consumer Tire Business Meeting in Los Angeles kicked off Nov. 9 with an opening night al fresco dinner and VIP tours of Paramount Studios. The evening was followed by an early morning session packed with detail and presentations before the crowded ballroom of 500-plus tire dealers and guests.

Using a late-night TV talk show format complete with a live band, “The Bridge Tones,” John Baratta, president of consumer replacement tire sales for U.S. and Canada, played talk show host for the event. Reminiscent of Johnny Carson, Baratta invited key individuals to sit with him to update the audience on initiatives from across the organization, woven between moments of friendly banter.

New 2017 Products

To keep both tire dealers and “the boss” satisfied, Bridgestone continues to expand its tire family for both the Firestone and Bridgestone brands with new releases and design evolutions. The products and tools highlighted at the conference all seem to have shared roots in listening – capturing feedback from dealers, advisory boards, customer surveys and consumer data – to drive much of the innovation presented.

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One of the larger themes was Bridgestone’s commitment to the Firestone brand, with new product advertising campaigns and support. In fact, the company plans to upgrade 56% of its current Firestone brand tire portfolio in the coming year with additional Firestone refinements on the roadmap. This includes a new all-season tire as well as a competitive refresh of several existing designs.

Firestone All Season – The value-priced radial is set to launch in March with all 49 sizes available by August 2017 (including 32 passenger and 17 CUV sizes). The tire is designed for reliable traction in all seasons, providing quality and three-year limited warranty coverage at a lower price point. A December 2016 early order special is available for dealers.

Firestone Transforce A/T 2 – An upgrade based on consumer feedback and data, the refreshed version of the original Transforce A/T features a new design that boasts deeper tread for better traction and improved chip-and-tear resistance for improved off-road performance. This translates to improved handling in wet and snowy conditions and longer-lasting performance, according to the tiremaker. Launching in April 2017, Bridgestone said the Transforce A/T will cover 95% of LT sizes. 

Olympic archer Khatuna Lorig takes center stage and shoots an arrow into Bridgestone’s DriveGuard tire to demonstrate how you can drive on the tire up to 50 miles after a puncture. (Bridgestone photo)

Olympic archer Khatuna Lorig takes center stage and shoots an arrow into Bridgestone’s DriveGuard tire to demonstrate how you can drive on the tire up to 50 miles after a puncture. (Bridgestone photo)

Firestone Destination M/T 2 – For the light truck category the new Destination M/T2 design refresh features a 20-degree attack angle, 20% deeper grooves for better traction, a three-ply sidewall and better resistance to chips and tears – all with a more aggressive appearance. Available in 29 sizes, the new M/T 2 will launch in July 2017.

Firestone Winterforce 2 and 2 UV – This durable winter tire features a special cold-weather compound, open shoulder slots and tread design, full-depth tread features and is Three Peak Mountain Snowflake rated. Launching in July 2017, the Winterforce 2 will come in 52 sizes with 14% more coverage of SUV and CUV fitments. It is also studdable.

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Also launching in 2017:

Bridgestone Dueler H/T 685 – This truck tire is designed for heavy-duty performance, with strong wet and winter handling. Launching in March 2017, the tire is the next best option over the Transforce HT and will come in 17 LT sizes covering 96% of LT vehicles in market. It also consolidates former Dueler H/T products, including the 684 II, 687, 689, 840 and 470

Bridgestone DriveGuard – World-class Olympic archer Khatuna Lorig fired off an arrow into the tire on stage to highlight safety and the ability to drive extended miles after a tire puncture. The DriveGuard will be available in five new sizes in 2017 and is positioned as a premium-touring tire with an added safety benefit of run-flat technology.

The Fuzion A/T – Available in nine sizes (including two new CUV sizes) covering more than half of the A/T market, the Fuzion A/T will launch in January 2017 and provides all-terrain capabilities and long lasting performance for value-driven consumers, the tiremaker said.

Support for Dealer Success

Leadership at Bridgestone showed consistent appreciation for the contributions made by independent tire dealers as a key component of the company’s continued success. To better support its network of independent dealers, Bridgestone is making aggressive investments in consumer and online marketing to drive more customers into Bridgestone and Firestone dealer locations, as well as offering tools to enhance those in-store interactions.

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As part of that commitment to its network of independent tire dealers, the Bridgestone team introduced several technologies designed to enhance customer interactions, including:

Bridgestone’s DriveGuard tire. (Bridgestone photo)

Bridgestone’s DriveGuard tire. (Bridgestone photo)

Tire Connect software allows independent Bridgestone and Firestone dealers to customize their own e-commerce site and includes complete inventory and pricing details for greater accuracy, transparency and trust in interactions with consumers. The system gives access to consumers online with information on the products in stock (or quickly available) at a specific dealer so the customer comes into the location knowing they have what they want. It also features consultative-sale functionality making it easy for dealers to explain the value of each option to better upsell to a premium tire with fewer lost sales;

Side By Side, available in 2017 and powered by Tire Connect, is a kiosk-style point of sale system where the counter sales person and the customer can view options together to guide them and share the customer journey;

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On Ramp is a digital portal that consolidates access to corporate sales, marketing and product information into a single hub for easy dealer use;

Tire Navigator gives dealers proprietary big data insights on micro-market trends in an easy-to-use tool. The system allows access to insights based on local tire demand versus historic sales. Details can be specific to the dealer address, region, ages of vehicles in market and more, so dealers can be smarter and more strategic about the tires they stock and promote at each location. 

Gordon Knapp, the new CEO and president of Bridgestone Americas, Inc., also paid tribute to his friend and colleague Gary Garfield, retired chairman, CEO and president, and Garfield’s wife, Cindy. Garfield, obviously moved by his send off, addressed tire dealers in the audience, “The company could not be in better hands. The relationship with you could not be in better hands. Between Gordon, Bill and the management team, our best days are ahead of us.”

The event wrapped up with a special dinner and private concert by country music star Brad Paisley. 

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