Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to be a part of the tire industry?
I am Brazilian and have been in the tire industry for 40 years, working across different functions such as manufacturing, sales and marketing and general management. I have worked for three different tire companies: Goodyear for 28 years, Apollo Tyres for eight years and Cooper Tire for more than two years now. Over the last 30 years, I have worked in 12 countries across five different continents.
We last spoke with Cooper during the 2015 edition of the Dubai International Motor Show, of which Cooper was the tire sponsor. How has the company grown in the Middle East market in the ensuing years?
We have been doing well in the Middle East, launching our brand in markets where we formerly had a limited presence. We are pleased to visit Dubai to meet with our distributors across the Middle East and discuss how we can continue to build on our success going forward.
The past year has been very challenging for the tire industry with a high level of volatility when it comes to the prices of raw materials. How has this affected Cooper?
As Cooper’s CEO Brad Hughes said on a recent conference call with the investment community, Cooper believes that we are well positioned heading into the remainder of 2017, as raw material prices are beginning to stabilize, product price increases are taking hold, and as a result, we expect our U.S. volumes to improve relative to the industry in the second quarter. We also expect margins to improve, and we have reaffirmed our full year 2017 operating margin guidance at the high-end of our 8% to 10% range consolidated operating profit margin range.
In your current role, you are overseeing the Latin American, European and Middle Eastern markets. What are the distinctive characteristics of each market and how are they different from each other?
While each market is distinct, overall, I believe the industry is broadly similar around the world. It is a relationship business, where we work closely with our dealers and distributors to establish a strong relationship as part of which they support our brands and we support them. Of course, we must have the right products, the right pricing structure, and strong marketing to succeed. Still, it is a people-to-people business and that is the main characteristic of the tire industry.
How has the GCC tire market evolved over the years?
The tire industry has become increasingly more professional over the years in terms of the way distributors represent themselves in the market. We have seen major improvements in the stores, the skill level of the staff and their product knowledge, etc. This enhanced professionalism helps educate consumers and helps them to evaluate quality along with cost versus focusing only on cost.
The standards with regard to the sale of tires have been made more stringent over the years, especially in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. What impact has this had on Cooper’s strategy in the region?
We adhere to all GCC Standardization Organization (GSO) standards. This is a requirement of doing business in the region and it has not impacted our strategy in any significant way…it is simply the way of doing business in the region.
What are the most popular Cooper tires in the UAE market?
The Middle East has a very diverse vehicle car parc. As we offer a wide range of tires, this fits our product portfolio well. There are three Cooper tyre lines of particular relevance to the region:
All three do a great job of meeting the needs of consumers in the Middle East.
Given the extreme weather conditions in the Middle East, which tires from the Cooper range are most suitable for use in the UAE?
Our Cooper Discoverer STT PRO line is a solid match for the extreme weather conditions and the Middle East off-roading scene. The Discoverer STT PRO is Cooper’s most advanced, extreme tire to date. It provides exceptional traction and performance in some of the harshest terrains on Earth. The distinctive tread design and compound provide remarkable on-the-road performance without sacrificing off-road traction. Three is a high degree of technology in this tire including 3-Ply Armor-Tek3, silica tread compound, aggressive 3-2 center rib design, and side-biters, which make it great off-road. But, even if drivers never take the product off-road, they can still put these tires on their vehicle and they will look and perform very well.
There are a considerable number of players in the UAE tire market including brands from China, Indonesia, Taiwan, Malaysia, India and Europe. How is Cooper differentiating its tires from other tires in the market?
Cooper always focuses on delivering a great performing product at a competitive price. We are a tier two player, but we deliver tyres that perform like a tier one while representing excellent value for money. We feel that our brand equity in the UAE tire market, which is still growing, does position us well to compete as our brand is recognized as representing high quality tires.
Customers in the UAE are price sensitive. In such a scenario, what strategies have you adopted to increase the appeal of Cooper tires to customers?
Customers around the world are price sensitive and have access to product information from all around the globe, so they really can compare products against each other. We welcome this transparency because Cooper offers a high quality product for a reasonable price. We believe there will always be space for us to compete and communicate our product advantages to consumers who demand quality at a good value.
How do you ensure that your products are as eco-friendly as possible? What are the initiatives you have taken when it comes to sustainability?
Our full sustainability programme report can be seen on our corporate website. Among other initiatives, our report explains how we manage energy at our factories as well as what we are doing inside the factories to reduce emissions, waste, and fuel consumption.
What are the marketing partnerships you have in the Middle East market?
In terms of marketing and communications, we work with Performance Communications across the GCC. We also partner with several local auto preparation businesses to put our tires on special models, with a particular focus on 4×4 tires. In 2015, we launched our website in Arabic, which covers all aspects of our products size by size. It includes information about the company and we feature a dealer locator so consumers can find their local tire shop. We are open to future opportunities and work closely with our dealers and our distributors to find out what works best in the region.
How important are fleet sales and what strategies have you taken up to increase your appeal to this segment?
Fleet sales is a very important and growing segment for Cooper. We have a number of staff in our organization who are working directly on these opportunities. At the moment, we are starting with areas where we have a strong presence, such as in the UK and other European countries. It is an important segment for us and is part of our growth plan.
What are the major challenges that the tire industry is facing, both globally and in the Middle East?
A key challenge is educating consumers. Drivers need to be informed about our products, the benefits they offer, and their performance. Often, consumers simply compare prices, but that does not represent the entire picture. It is up to us to educate them about topics such as quality and performance as well as safety.
Who are your distribution partners in this region? What factors affect the distribution and sales of your products here?
Distributors for Cooper Tire are Renaissance in the UAE, Mohammed Nahar in Kuwait, Zubair in Oman, Rebco in Lebanon, Sami Karadseh in Jordan. Finally, we have recently appointed Arabian Tires as our distributor in Saudi Arabia.
If there is one thing you would like to convey to readers of Tires & Parts, what would that be?
Try our products. We offer high-quality products which offer great value for money. I think the readers of Tires & Parts would be impressed!
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 has expertise in writing copy both from the agency and corporate perspectives and has worked on press releases, website content, all kinds of marketing collateral and management of social media channels like facebook and Twitter. She enjoys writing about luxury cars like Ferrari, Lamborghini, etc even if she can only dream of owning them.
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