When asked what tire dealers should look out for, Ostrander said, “Having the right product is key.”
T-rated tires have a negative trend, while the high-performance market is growing, according to Ostrander. “It's a matter of what your brand is, and how you're presenting yourself on the Internet,” he said. “From a digital marketing standpoint, you can compete with anyone.”
Smallwood said independent dealers should rely on their skills and try to seek as much information as possible.
“Most of us have never sold a tire in our lives,” he said, referring to himself and the other panelists. “I recommend you push your suppliers and manufacturing partners for what's going on in the industry.”
Mizutani urged his listeners to keep close tabs on market trends and not be afraid of a changing market.
“I've met many tire dealers,” he said. “Some are successful, and some are struggling. The difference is attitude. Change is coming. Do you want to embrace it, or treat it as an enemy?”
Knapp said Bridgestone expects independent tire dealers to continue to play a key role in distribution, noting that convenience and service are where dealers can offer an advantage.
“The average driver doesn't think a lot about tires for two or three years,” he said. “Then he has to make a sudden, major purchase.
“The quality of the attendant behind the counter is absolutely crucial,” he said. “Whether tire dealers succeed depends on the quality of the person behind the counter.”
“When you look at independent tire dealers, there's a lot of value they provide to consumers, not just service,” Ostrander said. Tire dealers' support of their local communities is priceless both for building good will and for the general quality of life in their towns, he said.
However, that doesn't mean they won't have fierce competition, executives said. Auto dealers now have about 7-7.5 percent of the replacement tire market, and they aren't about to relinquish that share, they said.
“In some ways, car dealers have been pulled into service and tires to maintain their viability,” Knapp said. “We'll see them become more aggressive in those areas.”
Auto dealers' share of tire sales will continue to grow because they have a very large infrastructure in place, according to Smallwood.
“They desperately need to have customers come back in,” he said.
“The game is how you adapt to a changing market. In 1990, there was a lot of speculation that independent tire dealers would die and go away. Obviously, that hasn't happened. You have to concentrate on what you provide that no one else does.”