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Continental Sells to Tire Salesmen in the U.S.

Continental, Europe’s tire leader, woos the “tire guy” from local garages in the U.S.

It’s just past 9 a.m. on a soon-to-be-scorching June Thursday on the southern edge of Texas hill country, and Chris Kunz is making a Ford Mustang squeal. Kunz, a 28-year-old assistant store manager for Discount Tire in Houston, is comparing a set of General Tire G-Max tires with four Goodyear Eagle GTs. It’s looking bad for the Goodyears, which is exactly what Continental, the company that owns the General brand, hoped. “God, these Goodyears are horrible,” says Kunz, who says they gave a rougher and noisier ride when he hit 60 mph on the twisty, 1.1-mile asphalt course. (Goodyear spokesman Jim Davis says, “The Eagle GT is an excellent product.”)

Kunz, who works for the second-largest independent U.S. tire retailer, is one of about 950 tire salesmen Continental brings to its Uvalde proving grounds for 10 hours each year, as the world’s fourth-largest tire maker tries to maximize its marketing budget by influencing some of the most influential men in the business. Tire stores are a bit of a holdout in the world of big-ticket retail, where Internet research is supplanting salesmanship. The word of the guy working the tire-store counter still matters in as many as 80 percent of retail tire purchases, tire sellers say. That’s not small change: Americans will spend $13 billion at tire retailers this year, up 6.6 percent from 2010, according to researcher IBISWorld.