The pandemic prompted tire manufacturers to find innovative solutions to retain their competitiveness
Health emergency, social distancing, lockdown and smart working. These have certainly been, and still are, difficult times for the tire industry. And the future is still a big question mark. However, operators have not been idle during this period. On the contrary, they have faced the unexpected situation with courage and creativity and are gearing up to do so in the near future. The market has experienced months of severe crisis due to the Covid-19 emergency. The lockdown, which was almost total in Italy for almost two months, as well as in most of Europe, resulted in a double-digit drop in sales. All stakeholders in the supply chain, from manufacturers to retreaders, tire specialists and end users were put to the test, and some had to face the threat of going out of business.
The Japanese giant shared a document with all its partners summarising the main measures and guidelines for operating in a safe environment and its Health&Safety team organised a series of online meetings dedicated to First Stop points of sale: an honest and open discussion on health and safety measures to be implemented in the shop. First Stop points of sale received a kit consisting of a safety acrylic glass to be mounted on the acceptance counter, disposable gloves and sanitising gel. A concrete help to safeguard the health of all customers as well as the employees working daily in the shop. From the second half of April, Bridgestone partners had the opportunity to participate in an online seminar during which Gfk experts presented the latest research on consumer habits following the coronavirus crisis, new trends and how these will affect society, with a focus on tire market trends. In addition to discounts, all clients received a free car sanitation kit. Bridgestone also confirmed the sell out campaign, which started on 8 April and was extended until 30 June to allow all drivers to benefit from it given their limited mobility at the moment. First Stop dealers were also able to offer discounts on Mobox contracts. Bridgestone and First Stop have arranged a series of financial aids for all partners enabling them to focus on purchasing safety and personal protective equipment for employees as well as equipment or other materials essential to the business.
"After Easter, we opened our offices once again to restore some continuity to the service and we are making up for the inevitable losses accumulated, probably better than others thanks to our loyal customers, our Cst Orange Point affiliates, a project that is repaying us for all the efforts and sacrifices made in past years - says Giovan Battista Vecchi, CEO of Bis (Cst Tires). During the first half of the year, the automotive sector suffered a 20% drop in turnover. However, by the end of May, and throughout the month of June, we received enough orders to allow us to limit our losses, even though pre-lockdown figures are still a far cry". Cst Tires continued to work to development new products and size range to guarantee an adequate choice in line with the demands of the Italian and European market. The short-term future and the numbers linked to it will inevitably depend on the trend of the pandemic at a national level. "In the medium-long term, we are confident that we can continue on the path we began two years ago, particularly by focusing on the affiliation of new points of sale to the Cst Orange Point circuit," concluded Vecchi.
“The recent emergency has not stopped Falken's plans, which is focusing heavily on the Italian market, where we want to grow and reach a significant market share, especially in terms of brand recognition, similarly to we have already gained in other European countries," says Fabrizio Manfredi, Falken's sales support manager for Italy. The impact of the Covid-19 on the Italian market, with its highly negative numbers and great difficulties at different levels of the supply chain, has certainly had consequences for Falken too. Fortunately, the company was able to cope with these difficulties and we are proud of the fact that no one was laid off or placed on unemployment benefits either at headquarters or in European branches. We have been working, and still are, from remote to avoid unnecessary risks of contagion and to meet the needs of our colleagues. Furthermore, from a production point of view, our factories have only been idle for a few weeks, therefore we do not expect any product shortages in the coming winter season. The only big downside for us was the cancellation of events where we usually invited our customers to enjoy a direct contact”.
After asking its employees and associates to adopt smart working solutions and sending them a set of surgical masks for themselves and their families, Goodyear Dunlop has worked hard to provide answers and updates on how the situation is developing, interpreting regulations and offering various tools to support its customers. The Warm Up initiative has offered the whole resale scene many webinars on hot topics such as decrees, customer approach and the digitisation of business. These issues were explored in depth with an online training programme dedicated to the SuperService network: timely weekly contents gave ideas and support on how to adapt the business and restart operating after the lockdown. Operational supports were also provided to quickly adapt the point of sale to the current rules of sanitation and social distancing with visual material to guide employees and customers, not to mention quality products such as masks, gloves, gels, etc. some of which supplied free of charge, others at very affordable prices. Finally, Goodyear has extended its sell-out campaign, one of the most competitive on the market, until June 30th to allow its customers to take advantage from this key tool in attracting traffic into the shop. Thanks to all these actions and the ability of retailers to adapt quickly to the changed market context, the second half of the year showed significant signs of recovery. Several measures are now being adopted to support retailers in the latter part of the year, including new sell-out initiatives, new programmes and network partnerships to increase traffic in SuperService retail shops.
The beginning of 2020 had already sent out negative signals, even before the pandemic and the following lockdown. The drop in new registration was inevitable. Uncertainties prompted the Magri group (Yokohama, GiTi, Gt Radial, Sumitomo, Sunfull) to start on a path of profound changes with new top managers and a reassessment of key roles. The idea was to start again from internal resources placed in the right positions to enhance their talent, under the guidance of Dr. Giovanni Masinelli, the group's new executive director.
During the lockdown, activities did not stop, services, in full compliance with all regulations, were still guaranteed. In addition, despite the lockdown, our sales force enjoyed periodical and frequent contact through video-conferences and training webinars. The end of the lockdown projected the group into a new proactive commercial period trying to enrich the offer with products and services that could help the point of sale.
The industrial vehicle tire sector deserves to be mentioned separately. In order to guarantee transport operators the availability of tire replacement and contribute to the timely distribution of all essential services, Marangoni's production and logistics activities have always remained active, in compliance with regulations, even during the most critical phases of the emergency. A few months after the reopening and resumption of activities, some signs of recovery in the truck tire market began to be seen. The public transport sector, on the other hand, is still under a lot of pressure. The lockdown, the closure of many economic activities and schools have reduced the use of public transport by users by up to 90%, with a consequent stoppage of vehicles and the consequent drop in the demand for tire replacements. This has greatly affected the retreading sector due to a general difficulty in finding suitable casings as truck and bus tire changes decreased considerably.
Michelin has long been committed to promoting the spread of digitisation, and even the pandemic could not stop them from programming training courses that respond to different levels of knowledge and learning. In particular, the Michelin Training Centre has taken the opportunity to transform its classroom activities into on-line learning courses in virtual classrooms in which participants and the trainer interact with questions and debate the topics covered. These were not just hints and clues, but real training sessions lasting 4, 6 or 8 hours which were delivered without jeopardizing the quality of the training offer. In March and April, 138 hours of "webinar" training sessions were provided, distributed in 22 virtual classes attended by over 200 people. For the safety of its resellers and customers, Michelin arranged for about 1,300 Safety Kits to be sent free of charge to its partner resellers, including all Euromaster and Mastro networks. These kits contained equipment and informative material which, in line with the safety requirements adopted by health authorities, helped partners to apply prevention, sanitation and social distancing measures. The kit consisted of individual safety equipment, information posters to inform customers of the most important rules and behaviours for correct social distancing and material to identify the safety distances to be observed inside the point of sale. All those who had purchased 4 Michelin summer tires or All Season tires from one of the 214 Euromaster centres in Italy by 31 July received a free health policy underwritten with Reale Mutua which included a daily allowance of 80 euro following hospitalization, due to illness or accident, at a National Health Service facility involving more than 2 overnight stays, for a maximum of 20 nights during the 6 months of coverage.
Since the early stages of the health emergency, Pirelli launched various digital training initiatives for tire dealers through webinars, online courses and electronic materials on new approaches to the market, compliance with new health and procedures and the best commercial strategies for customer loyalty in the light of the current situation. In particular, one of the commercial initiatives that has been launched is a digital showcase, on the web, of the Drivers workshop network, thus creating an innovative point of contact with the end consumer. This digital platform allows the end consumer to plan a purchase or maintenance work on their car before going to the point of sale. In addition to this, seasonal initiatives have been extended to support the summer replacement, delayed due to the scenario created by the lockdown. These initiatives were designed alongside a new digital communication channel using Pirelli's institutional and social channels with the aim of enhancing the relationship with the customers “walking” side-by-side with them as business attempts to be back to normal, refocusing customers' attention on tire changes and car maintenance with a direct link to the digital showcase. These initiatives are still underway with a view to the winter tire replacement. In addition to these initiatives, the tried and tested Driver to Business project, created to support dealers in doing business with companies and fleets, provides a complete commercial offer of vehicle maintenance and assistance services through the Driver workshop network.