You have been with Cooper right from the beginning of your career. Can you please tell us about more about how you came to join the company and your journey to the top position in this region?
I’ve been with Cooper my whole career, 28 years. I started in engineering and product development and I worked in our offices in Finley for about ten years in multiple technical departments, so I’m an engineer by degree. I moved to the UK in 2002/2003 and there I started to get into manufacturing, in continuous improvement. From there I moved to our manufacturing factory in Albany, Georgia got into more production management, I did that for about three years. Back to Ohio where I was director of quality for Cooper, I did that for about two years and then I moved to Mexico and I was general manager of our Mexico operation so that was manufacturing, sales and marketing, I was there for four years. I moved to the UK in 2012, I’ve been the managing director for Cooper since January 2012; this will be my third year as MD.
Cooper has been present in the Middle East market for many years, but has been in the limelight only recently. What took you so long?
We did a strategic review of our business a year ago and we identified the Middle East as one of our strategic markets, we identified that really for two reasons. Reason one is when you put the whole Middle East together it is a big market, so the size. The second reason is when you look at the car park in the vehicles in the Middle East, a lot of SUV, a lot of 4X4 and that fits our product portfolio perfectly, from some of the really big all-terrain stuff and off-road stuff to some of the high end luxury SUV’s, the Mercedes, the Audi’s, BMW’s and the Landrover’s. Some of our new products really fit that European SUV, high-end SUV segment.
Cooper Tire is the official tire of the Dubai International Motor Show. What made this show a good platform to connect to customers in this region?
We were looking for an activity to re-launch the Cooper name in the region. We spent a lot of time talking to our distributors in the area and getting feedback from them on the type of events or marketing platforms that we should be using and a lot of the feedback we received suggested that out of the shows in the area the Dubai International Motor Show was the one to come to, it draws a good crowd of people, I think the organizers were saying somewhere in the region of 150,000 people over the next few days so that is a good level of exposure for the Cooper brand which is being supported by our distributors in the region.
Cooper was primarily focusing on the replacement market but has recently got a few OE fitments. Can you tell us more about Cooper’s OE fitments?
I can’t get into any specifics about which vehicles or which companies but I can tell you that Cooper will continue to pursue original equipment as part of its growth. I think in the next couple of years you will see Cooper continue to add OE fitments, it will never be a big part of our business it won’t be 50% or 30% or even 20% but we think that original equipment is a good way to get our brand out there and also to showcase our technology, so you’ll see us doing more of that.
What is your primary focus when it comes to improving sales and marketing in the Middle East?
I would say there are two things when you talk about just the sales, it has got to start with products and that’s why at the show this week we have launched three new products. Our CS8 which is our high performance summer product, our 4XS sport which is our ultra-high performance SUV tire and then our STT pro which is our mud terrain tyre, so I think it starts with product. I think the second thing that we need to do is improve our brand awareness and that’s through the Dubai Motor Show and also some of the other things such as converting our website to Arabic, converting our marketing materials to Arabic so that our consumers in the region can access both our brand and our products.
You have a high profile partnership with the Arsenal football team. Are you planning any marketing partnerships in the Middle East?
We are talking with our dealers and our distributors to find out what works in the region, if opportunities come along we will be evaluating them on a case by case basis. If we find something that we think we need to do specifically in the region then we would look to do that.
In the Middle East region, consumers are generally very price sensitive and many cheap brands are available in the market. How do you plan to tackle these factors?
There are a lot of brands in the tire industry. Cooper always focuses on delivering a great performing product at a good price so we really stick to that focus. We are a tier two player and we want tyres that perform like a tier one but have good value for money, we believe that if we stay focused on that formula, and we’ve seen it all over the world, it works consumers want great performance at a good price and it doesn’t matter what it is, whether its shoes or jeans or cars or tires, so that is where we stay focused. We manage the cost side of our business very closely but we also want to invest in great products.
What are the key strengths that you want to highlight in this market?
If you look at Cooper’s historical strength it is in the off-road and 4×4 tyres, anybody who tries are 4×4 and off-road tyres loves them, I think they are great and our consumers think they are great. We want to take that into some of these SUV and on-road tyres which is why we have products such as 4XS Sport which is not an off-road tyre, it’s specifically designed for high performance SUV’s so that’s an area which we want to take down and also we want to focus on some of our passenger car ranges, such as the CS8 some of the technology and performance which we put into our 4XS Sport is also in our CS8 and you can see that in our marketing materials ‘From the rough, with the 4×4 to the smooth’ and that’s not just a marketing saying that is really what we want to do.
Cooper recently launched the Discovery STT Pro in the Middle East. Can you tell us more about the range of tires you have for off-road vehicles.
For us the STT Pro is the most advanced mud terrain tyre which we have ever designed and there are three levels of technology in that product. One, we have the armoured tech sidewall which is a third ply which gives the tyre tremendous durability against punctures, rocks etc. so it has a strong carcass. Two, we have a lot of compound technology in the tread, so that tread provides good grip but also resists cutting and chipping and other sorts of abrasion and ware. And the final thing is the pattern itself, so when you look at the pattern closely the tread elements have scoops to dig into mud and soft surfaces, but they also have serrations on the back side of the elements to allow any sort of mud to be released, so it is self-cleaning so there is a lot of technology in that product. If people never take the product off-road they can still put it on their vehicle and it looks great, we put a lot of engineering into it but also it is a stylish tire.
Regulations regarding tires have been made stricter in the UAE recently. How do you think this will affect the retail tire scene?
We work all of the GSO legislations, we work with them on the RFID tags and GSO certificates, that’s simply something that we have to do to be in the market. It is a little more complicated here, but it is just the cost of doing business, it is something you have to do to be in the market.
Low awareness levels regarding tire safety has been responsible for causing many accidents. Will Cooper be involved in any tire safety awareness initiatives?
The first thing from our stand point is that we have been selling into the market for over thirty years, so we have experience with temperatures and speeds and those requirements of the market. We design our tyres to meet the harshest conditions in the world so we are very confident in the durability of our products. The second thing is that we will partner with our local distributors and if there is an opportunity for our consumer programme we would certainly take a look at that and decide if that is how we can support something like that, that is really going to be led by some of our local partners.
Cooper recently launched the company’s first website in Arabic. What role will digital marketing play in your marketing strategy?
At the moment we don’t have any immediate plans to do any local social media. We are working with Performance Communications in the region; we are at the very start of our PR work in the area. We have just launched our website in Arabic which covers all aspects of our products size by size, it has information about the company and we have a dealer locator there so people can find their local contact where they can buy the tyres. Again, as we develop our activities we will then look to see if there are social media platforms in the region which we should be participating in. At the moment we are a step away from that, but again as we develop our plans here that could be something for us for the future.
People have become very conscious about the environmental impact of products in the automotive industry. What progress has Cooper made when it comes to noise reduction, rolling resistance, fuel economy etc?
If you go to our website Cooper has a full sustainability program, it talks about how we manage energy at our factories; it talks about energy efficiency, which is probably the primary one. I think from a tire stand point the other two things which we are doing is participating with US government to develop guayule, which is an alternative for natural rubber, which is more sustainable. We have actually produced a tire and tested it made from guayule, again trying to find a more sustainable raw material for the product. I think the other thing which Cooper really focuses on is having tyres which are durable and last, that’s important to us we don’t want a tire to wear out after 5,000 miles and then you have casing, recyclability, all of those problems. One of the best things to do is make sure the tires last. I think the other thing is that we have to ensure all our products are in line with European legislation so all our factories in the US are now using clean oils, so the whole company has converted to clean oil which is important for us.
What about recycling initiatives?
We do that on a local factory by factory basis so each of our factories will partner with recyclers in the area and that changes area by area depending on what is happening locally. Sometimes those tires are used for fuel, for energy, sometimes they are ground up into crumb rubber and used in other applications, sometimes they are used in civil engineering products, so that all depends factory by factory in terms of what support is in the area.
You have dealt with the Mexican market, the US market and the European market. In what way is the market in the Middle East different from these markets?
The Middle East is interesting because it is the only market I’ve seen which a mix of US vehicles and European vehicles. It is the only market I have seen which seems to be half of each and that is challenging, but by the same token it’s an opportunity because Cooper has a huge range of products from the US, the Korean vehicles and the Japanese vehicles so we have all the fitments for that and then our product development in Europe fits all the European vehicles, so although that differentiation is challenging we have a product portfolio to really fit that. No other place I’ve been has a car parc like that, Europe is Europe and America is America. In Europe you get a few American vehicles, in America you get a few European vehicles, Mexico it is mainly American type vehicles, smaller vehicles but here there is a lot of both.
Within the region itself, the tire market differs from country to country. For example, the Saudi market is different from the UAE market. Can you tell us more about this?
Each region is going to have a slightly different cark park, a lot of that depends on the roads, the infrastructure and the economy. We see the same thing in Europe, although France is right next to Germany it has a very different car park, much smaller vehicles, more economically focussed. Germany has bigger roads and bigger vehicles so we see that persity even among close countries in Europe.
Are there any challenges that are unique to this region?
Sure, there are lots. I think the challenges are first of all having that vehicle car park that is partly US influenced and European influenced, so it is a very perse vehicle car park. Secondly, the legislative requirements are very unique here, which is a challenge. Finally, the overall environment here, it is hot and it’s higher speeds so we have to make sure we design products that can withstand that.
Because we have been doing business in the region for thirty years we design and manufacture tires that will perform anywhere in the world. We don’t do anything specific for the tires for this region, but because we have been doing business here for so long we understand the demands of this market and our tires across the world will perform here, in Arizona or Texas or Mexico or China, wherever. We want one global standard of tire performance and we insist that our tires can perform in any market in the world.
What are the general challenges that the tire industry is facing at the moment?
I think there are probably a couple. Legislation is a challenge for the industry; each region is starting to develop its own rules, there is an American legislative effort, a European legislative effort, a Middle Eastern legislative effort, there’s a Japanese legislative effort. We are looking at six different legislative regimes which are all similar but different and they are all focussed on the same thing, product durability, the environmental stand point, so clean oil legislation, noise, wet grip. A tyre can only do so many things but each country has a different way of legislating those four to six performance characteristics and that’s costly because they are have different tests, labels, requirements and there are different frequencies as to when you have to update those. I think sustainability will continue to be a challenge for the industry, making sure that the raw materials going in are sustainable; making sure the production has as low a carbon footprint as possible and then what do you do with that end product, the recycling the re-use, the end of life management is a big deal. I would say those are the two main things, we are always going to have size proliferation, we are always going to have competition in terms of pricing but I think those two points will stand the test of time in terms of challenges for the industry.
What are your short-term and long-term goals for Cooper in the Middle East market?
I will touch on the long term first. We have identified the Middle East as a strategic growth market; we want to grow in this region because again it is a big market with a mix of products which fit our product portfolio and I think that’s true for our short and long term goals. We see this as a region where we can grow and this is supported by the products that we have and also by getting our brand out there so consumers can understand our brand and understand our products and give them a try. The short term activities that we are doing now are going to feed into our long term growth objectives.
Are there any common misconceptions about Cooper Tires that you would like to clear?
A20 Cooper are known for their 4×4 tyres and I think that’s a well-earned reputation, but we make great passenger tyres too, which I think gets overlooked. We make some great passenger tyres, whether it is for Camrys, Accords or KIAs or for some of the European vehicles. I think we not only great 4×4 products but also passenger products too.
What do you like best about working for Cooper?
Cooper is a company about people, I think as a team we support each other, when you hear people talk about Cooper you hear the word family a lot and that is very important to me, I like that and I like to work that way. I think that’s important in terms to how we work with our customer. This afternoon we will have all our Middle East dealers back together again and that is part of our family and that is probably the main thing I like about it, I like the people and the family environment, working with the people in the company and also our customers and distributors. When we do events and launches, be it customers which we bring together or if we are doing a press launch and we bring journalists together, everyone goes away saying “that was fun, we had a good time, a great group of people” they get the family inclusivity, they say “it is really good coming to your events because they are so friendly, so welcoming and you really feel part of a group or a team.” Cooper people are very easy to talk to and relate to, we love to design and make and sell tyres and we like that and we like to talk to people about that. I think that is the biggest thing the family side of it but also a passion for great products. You’ll see a lot of people walking down the street with their heads down, looking at patterns, looking at walls – occupational hazard!
Is there anything you would like to tell Tires & Parts readers?
I would just say try our products, I think they will be impressed and I think they will really see that value proposition.
Manju Mathew, an MBA in marketing, completed publisher training courses from the Oxford Brookes University and New York University. She started with marketing and PR roles before moving on to her current position as a full time writer. Currently living in Dubai, her life as an expat has sharpened her observation skills and flair for writing. She enjoys writing about luxury cars like Ferrari, Lamborghini, etc even if she can only dream of owning them.
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