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Editor's Notebook

Winter Vacations?: Making the Most of Dealer Meetings – Without Hangover Blahs


The accumulation of peanut bags in my briefcase tells me that it’s Annual Dealer Meeting time once again – the period when tire companies bring dealers together in one garden spot to rev them up for the coming push.

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New products are unveiled. Back-orders and low fill-rates are explained. And, promises are made that “things will improve.” Sales goals are outlined. Marketing programs are announced. Special guest speakers and celebrities do their thing. The CEO may even show up to pat you on the back.

During the day, rumors float wildly. Stories of the previous night’s daring-do are embellished. Individual and small group meetings are held. Sometimes, there is a mini trade show or a ‘ride and drive’ or some golf – or all three. There may even be other activities to enjoy.


In the evening, drinks flow like water. Fabulous food is consumed. More and more drinks are poured. In the morning, great quantities of aspirin are swallowed. Life-giving coffee comes far too slowly. Natural light – any light – burns through eyelids.

And another round of more of the same starts.

I’ve been to more than a few of these over the years. Some have been love fests, others outright kiss-and-make-up efforts. On occasion, they resembled Salem witch hunts, as disgruntled dealers pinned execs into a corner and vented.

All of them, though, presented dealer attendees with opportunity – which is the point of all this.

Too often, I suspect, the glitz and the blitz of these events obscure all of the things tire companies offer to their dealers. Maybe the benefits (vs. the features) aren’t presented well enough to the audience. Perhaps attendees don’t, can’t or won’t see the value. Could all be smoke-n-mirrors, in some cases.


Tangled among the PowerPoints and zany videos and nervous speeches, though, are tools and ideas to help dealers sell more tires. Obviously, this means buying more tires from said company, but that is, after all, the point of the exercise, right?

Sure, the new TV commercials are nice, the quarterly promotions look promising and the new brochures are sharp. But those are just icing. How many of you see past all that and get into the meat-n-taters of how these companies can really help you? Even without obscene minimum stocking orders?

What training programs are available? Are you taking full advantage of available POP materials and displays? Could your Web site use some updating with new product photos and descriptions? How can you further leverage manufacturer programs? Are you even on the dealer locator section of your supplier’s Web site?


Can you apply earned bonuses and credits for new equipment or training, instead of just plugging it back into your buying price? Maybe you could use some of that to front your own local sweepstakes or giveaways. How can you localize some of the national promotions they plan?

Are the new products something you could do some damage with in your market? Did you tell them? What are your customers telling you, and how could this company help?

Instead of wondering how you can beat them down on pricing, have you thought how their products and price points could bring you more profits?


In dealing with these companies, is your tool of choice a blank sheet of paper, a pencil and some imagination, or do you reach for the calculator they gave you at the last meeting?

Are the co-op programs more complicated than income tax instructions? What can you do to simplify them – for yourself and your fellow dealers? Do you even use co-op programs?

Are you wholly reliant on them to do the whole thing for you – run the ads, pre-sell the product and follow through on delivery – or do you take the bull by the horns and meld their ideas and offerings into something unique for your market?


In other words: Are you just on vacation for a few days, or are you at that meeting to listen, learn and think?

Not every program or plan is a gem…believe me. But things are much better than the good old days when the tire company masters threw it out on the table and said, “Eat this, knave!” Enlightened companies take feedback and do something with it. The smart ones offer programs that you can actually use. Aggressive ones deliver cost-effective ways for you to succeed.

You’re still the best judge, but don’t just cast these opportunities aside “cause they probably won’t work.” Chances are, these same ideas have been applied successfully by others. What is it they say about a good carpenter blaming his tools?


So, as you pack for your dealer meeting, approach it like a business meeting, not a boondoggle. Spend time thinking. Ask questions. Offer suggestions. Most importantly, if they’re going to give you bullets, be smart enough to work the gun.

As for me, I need to start slathering on the sunscreen. It’s going to be a long, hot winter.

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