On July 3, 2018, TireHub—a joint tire distribution venture between Goodyear and Bridgestone—shipped its first tire and began accepting orders from repair shops and tire dealers across the country.
Fast forward a year later, and TireHub is up and running, delivering tires up to four times a day in certain areas and has also added a distribution center in Ft. Myers, Florida. We caught up with Peter Gibbons, CEO of TireHub, at the beginning of July to delve into the company’s first year in business and what dealers can expect in the years ahead.
TR: TireHub’s one-year anniversary of shipping its first tire is July 3. Congratulations on that. Can you tell me about some of the ramp up that went into making that happen?
PG: Well, first, we on-boarded 1,000 people. The deal was announced in April of last year, so we only had between the middle of April and July to get 1,000 people ready and transition for this new company…. We had to move inventory around the country so that we had the Bridgestone, Goodyear and Toyo product ranges across the 68 [distribution] centers. We also had to build out the sales forecast and business plan so that we knew what to expected to happen on day one. Then, we had to make sure we had all the staffing in place and all the systems fired up so that we could be ready with our first order July 3.
TR: I’m sure shipping that first tire had to be a great feeling.
PG: It was a fantastic feeling. Our people were doing so much work over many months to actually get to that day to fire up all systems to launch. We had to transfer all of the employees from their two prior employers and have our headquarters here functioning and together. It was quite an amazing few days.
TR: When TireHub launched, how did the company get dealers on board with this new way they would be getting tires from Goodyear and Bridgestone?
PG: That’s a great question because, on the one hand, our customers and our dealers were already very familiar with our products and our brands. On the other hand, this was a new entity, a new business, that’s going to be servicing them with new people. So with that in mind, we recognized that we immediately needed to launch a company culture of saying “yes”—yes to dealers, yes to customers.
People are so important to this. Our sales teams had to be focused on being able to explain who TireHub was and help dealers understand the change that was happening. We truly wanted to earn their business and make doing business with us as straightforward as possible. That includes giving them the right service levels, the right service standards, the right products in the right locations and the right tools to be able to place, track and receive orders from us.
TR: After the launch of TireHub, what were some initial successes and hiccups?
PG: One of the successes was absolutely how our Hubbers—that’s what we call our people—came together to deliver. These are 1,000 employees who came from Goodyear and Bridgestone—companies with great histories and great legacies. We were amazed at how quickly people made sure that we weren’t two companies. We weren’t Bridgestone. We weren’t Goodyear. We were TireHub. One of our successes was definitely how quickly people adapted to being Hubbers and saying we need to represent our new business, move forward and work together as a team.
I would say startups are really about the unexpected, and everything in the last year has really been a first for us. That’s why we need our Hubbers to be adventurous. Every month is different, every quarter is different. So, we’re constantly adapting to better say “yes” to customers and that looks a little different every day. We’re adding new customers, new channels, new employees, developing better and faster IT connections and tools. We have to be able to adapt to the newness of what we’re doing and always come back to how do we help our customers do business with us as smoothly as possible. At the same time, it’s not all easy and plain sailing. It’s tough. Setting up a new business is hard work, and we’ll be the first to say that we need to be humble and recognize that you don’t always get everything right the first time. We have to be prepared to listen to customers and adapt quickly when we realize we can do something better.
When you say the word challenges, it’s very important that we value transparency in communication being a new business…. So, when we come across a new challenge, we tackle it head first. For example, in our business, as we get into different channels, we need to have IT connectivity in place for many of our bigger customers to do business with us, and each of their needs is slightly different. To be able to go from a standing start last July and build out those API and connectivity tools and then be able to adapt quickly as different customers are saying, “We’re ready. We want to work with you…” Being able to quickly react to that and have a team in place to say how can we adapt to their needs, adapt our interfaces and connectivity tools to their needs and build that literally week after week, month after month. Our people showed up fantastic for that. You have to be open to listening to each customer’s needs when you’re making those kinds of connections.
TR: Reflecting on the last year, what are some areas in which you think TireHub and your team can improve?
We want to be one of the best customer service organizations in the country because at the heart of what we’re doing is being a partner and a support to help our dealers so that they can grow and be successful. We’re constantly looking at how we enhance how you connect with us, how you do business with us, the number of times we deliver into your area––whether that’s four times a day for local areas or two times a day for customers a little bit farther apart––we’re constantly reviewing and thinking about making our business seamless and frictionless with dealers. That means being able to listen and be honest with yourselves and be humble.
We must always remember that the real test of whether we’re being successful is how dealers and customers view us. We’re always asking ourselves, “How do we know if we are hitting the mark with how a customer or a dealer views us? Are we listening? Are we being humble? Are we being honest?” We have metrics, and they can show that we made some great improvements, but at the same time, the real test is if you were to ask a customer what do they think, do they see you as a valuable, vital partner in the success of their business? That’s always going to be something we think about and aim to improve.
TR: What are some ways you’re communicating with dealers to better understand what they expect from TireHub and what their needs are?
We have various ways. They’re able to phone in and talk directly to a customer service specialist if they want to pass on feedback or ask about orders. We have our sales force, which is out in the market every day visiting with customers. We, as a senior leadership team, try to connect with customers as well. I encourage customers to call me directly if there’s something they’re not sure about. We do that to ensure that we are seen to be approachable at all times. That’s the word that we use a lot at TireHub—being approachable with each other and approachable with customers. To us, that’s key to being a good customer service organization.
For example, our leadership team met with about 70 customers in January, and we created four booths so that they could talk to our finance team, sales and marketing team, operations team or IT team. We used that evening to listen and learn…. That was a great example of the kind of things which can help you understand how you can improve and how you can help customers be successful.
TR: TireHub recently launched a logistics center in its newest market, Ft. Myers, Florida. Looking out in the next five to 10 years, how will the company grow and expand and what can dealers expect as the company grows?
For new markets, we don’t share specific locations, but we are assessing many locations where we are pretty sure [those areas] are good opportunities for us to grow the business and be successful… We have some pretty clear ideas as to what that might look like over the next couple of years and where we could be present and be successful.
We’re also always looking at how to use our technology—whether it’s our B2B portal or API connections with bigger customers so that we are tied in directly to their systems… We also take very seriously that, as a distributor, having product available is obviously critical. So, we’re investing in tools, approaches and algorithms that help us try and ensure the best availability of Goodyear and Bridgestone products in the industry and make sure that we’re able to constantly keep the products customers want in our distribution centers. As products evolve, customers change. So, having those things in place will help us grow and expand into other channels and take on other customers.
TR: As someone that’s newer to the tire industry, what is something you’ve learned about the industry during your first year as CEO of TireHub?
PG: One thing is when you meet some of our customers—some of these tire dealers—some of these businesses have been in their family for maybe one, two, three generations. It’s a real privilege to serve a business like that, meet the owners and hear their story about how they’ve evolved that dealership and how that business has grown over time. They’ve lived and worked though many different economic periods.
A second is that the tire industry is full of people who love the product. They love the industry, and they stay in it for a long time. They truly enjoy servicing customers. I didn’t know much about it beforehand, but I’ve been impressed by the passion people bring to the tire industry, whether it’s on the manufacturer side, the distribution side or the dealer side, and the longevity people have within the industry. People are very committed to this business. I’ve enjoyed witnessing that, learning about it and becoming part of it.
TR: What do you want tire dealers to know about TireHub going forward?
PG: We want them to know that we’re here to work on bigger and better ways to serve them. We have great product, and we are passionate about making them available across the United States. Just as important as that is our people—the relationships we have with our customers and with our own people—because we recognize that trust is an important part of this equation and it has to be earned. We aim with our dealers to be that trusted partner in all aspects of our business. We know that this requires real commitment and hard work on our part. This week, the week of our one-year anniversary, it’s the perfect time for us to say that TireHub is as well-equipped to support dealers across the country, and we have that ambition to do that with a smile on our face because our dealer, our customers, are a priority to us. They’re why we’re here every day. We’re are a bit wiser and a bit more savvy about how we want to run TureHub each day, and now we want to grow. We look forward to investing that experience and knowledge in our customers in year two and beyond.