COCO CAY, Bahamas—Continental Tire North America Inc.'s Gold Dealer Program is rapidly expanding.
From a few hundred dealers in the first year, the program has grown to 1,300 dealer members.
Now Conti anticipates it will add 200 or more dealers to the roster before year-end, company executives said at the program's 2008 dealer meeting, held April 10-14.
Initially intended for dealers selling at least 1,000 units annually of Conti and/or General brand tires, the Gold Dealer program, in its eighth year, now comprises four levels of participation: Express (minimum of 300 units purchased annually), Standard (700 units), Select (1,200 units) and Elite (1,800 units).
The Express and Elite categories were added earlier this year, and already the company has signed more than 200 new dealers via the entry-level Express program.
To help enhance the program and make it more valuable to dealers, Continental executives said the company will add features such as online training and tailored marketing support later this year.
In July, Conti plans to launch a three-pronged training program focusing on sales skills, product knowledge and new hires.
The marketing support function—which will offer dealers tailored demographic market data for their individual selling territory service—will help dealers to better manage their inventories and ordering, according to Maria Deligiannidou, marketing intelligence manager.
This in turn will help the Charlotte, N.C.-based tire manufacturer improve its supply chain intelligence and lead to improved fill rates, according to Jim Sicking, director of independent dealer sales for the passenger and light truck division.
While revenue generated by Gold Program dealers still trails that of Conti's business with larger distributors, it's becoming a greater piece of the pie month by month, said Andreas Gerstenberger, executive vice president, sales and marketing.
If there was one common concern among dealers and distributors at the event, it was fill rates.
Gerstenberger pointed out that Continental is in the midst of a $170 million investment plan at the firm's Mount Vernon, Ill., tire plant and that the company's newest plant in the Americas—in Camacari, Brazil—is now operating at full capacity.
However, he said the Brazilian real/U.S. dollar exchange rate has changed enough since that plant went on stream two years ago to eat seriously into the profit margins Conti had calculated for that venture.
Conti also is making investments in its factory in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. All of these measures are meant to help the firm reduce its dependence on European supply, according to Gerstenberger.
Tony Talbert, product planning manager of light truck and winter tire lines, outlined Continental's present plans for new products and expanded size portfolios.
Over the past three years, he said, Conti North America has nearly completely renewed its product portfolio to the point the company will be very close to achieving its target of 80 percent SKU coverage for both the Conti and General brands.
Dealers were advised of the official rollout of the company's newest product, the General Grabber HTS all-season light truck tire, developed for crossover and sport-utility vehicles, pickup trucks and full-size vans.
The tire will be available initially in 38 sizes in 15- through 20-inch rim diameters.
Conti plans to have 28 more sizes available by the third quarter.
The tire already is an original equipment fitment on Ford Motor Co.'s Expedition.
General Motors Corp. also is evaluating it for fitment on the 2009 GMC Acadia, Conti said.