AGOURA HILLS, Calif.-Les Schwab Tire Centers Inc. has surpassed all other tire retailers in providing customer satisfaction, according to results of a new survey by J.D. Power and Associates. The Agoura Hills-based marketing information firm, which has for years conducted annual surveys of consumer satisfaction with original equipment and replacement tire brands and, since last year, with types of tire retailers, has now embarked on identifying individual retailers that offer the best tire-buying experiences.
The tire replacement market study, released May 13, also ranked Michelin as the No. 1 replacement tire brand for the third consecutive year and ranked independent tire dealerships as the top distribution channel overall for the second year.
The results were based on a sampling of 40,000 owners of 1989 and 1990 model-year cars and, for the first time, compact vans. A J.D. Power spokesman said the inclusion of vans is part of a progression toward incorporating light trucks into the study. The inclusion of vans did not change the overall ratings, the spokesman said. Owners of light trucks may be included in next year's study.
The Power study measured customers' satisfaction with the tires purchased as replacements for the OE tires and their satisfaction with the treatment and service provided by the retailer. Les Schwab Tire of Prineville, Ore.-which TIRE BUSINESS has ranked as the second-largest retail dealership in North America based on 1992 sales and third-largest based on total retail outlets-bested the list of 16 independent tire dealerships, warehouse clubs and mass merchandisers that qualified for the study's ranking based on sample sizes of 100 or more respondents.
The study concluded that customer experiences with retailers vary greatly. With an industry average score of 96, the customer shopping satisfaction scores ranged from 209 for Les Schwab down to 27.
Due to the fact that only 16 met the sample requirements, Power did not officially rank the retailers, which also included: Tire Kingdom Inc., Winston Tire Co., Big O Tires Inc., 4day Tire Stores, Pep Boys, Kmart Corp., Montgomery Ward & Co. Inc., Sears, Roebuck and Co., NTW (National Tire Wholesale), Tire America, Western Auto Supply Co., Pace Membership Warehouse Inc., Price Club, Costco Wholesale and Sam's Club.
However, the study did say 4day Tire Stores, a unit of Lansdale & Carr, and Big O Tires exceeded the industry average ``by significant margins.'' Kmart Corp. bested the three mass merchandisers isolated and was near the industry average.
The results of the retailer rankings mirrored the study's findings regarding distribution channels. In the area of customer satisfaction with the shopping experience-important, Power said, because it is an area retailers can control-service stations and independent dealerships outperformed other types of retailers with ratings of 135 and 124, respectively, compared with an industry average of 96.
Tire buyers rated the performance of retailers during the shopping and buying process in areas that included ``knowledge of personnel'' and ``quality of work performed.''
Company-owned stores and discount tire chains hovered near the industry average with scores of 95 and 92, respectively. Warehouse clubs, mass merchandisers and auto parts stores scored below average in every area of retailer performance.
The retailers' overall scores, which also included customer satisfaction with the tires, clustered closer around the industry average of 95.
``This year's study re-emphasizes the important role that the individual retailer plays in building customer satisfaction. The performance of the retailer can be critical, as the average person considered only two brands and shopped at only two stores during the process of purchasing new tires,'' according to the report.
Despite independent tire dealerships' high standing in consumer satisfaction, their share of the market is under assault.
According to survey results, ``traditional tire retailers''-independent dealers, discount chains and company-owned stores-handle 65 percent of replacement tire sales. Yet discount tire chains increased market share from 12 percent to 18 percent, and warehouse clubs boosted their share from 7 percent to 10 percent between 1993 and 1994.
``Virtually all of these gains appear to be coming at the expense of independent tire dealers and traditional company-owned tire stores,'' the Power report said.
About 46 percent of the respondents said they intended to return to the same retailer for their next tire purchase; 35 percent said they would buy the same brand. Among the brands represented in the survey, Michelin buyers were the most satisfied with their replacement tires for the third consecutive year, the study found.
Of the brands that ranked above the industry average score of 95, Michelin scored 121; Big O, 120; Toyo, 113; Dayton, 107; Uniroyal, 102; Bridgestone, 98; Goodyear, 96; and Pirelli, 95.
Ten other tire brands ranked below the industry average, with the lowest score at 74. These brands, in alphabetical order, were: BFGoodrich, Cooper, Continental, Dunlop, Firestone, General, Kelly-Springfield, Remington, Sears and Yokohama.
To be considered for ranking, the brand had to have a sample size of more than 100 respondents. Other brands that had a sample size of less than 100 but more than 30 respondents were: Atlas, Cordovan, Hercules, Lee, Monarch, Montgomery Ward, Multi-Mile, National, Riken and Summit.
The two most important factors affecting consumers' brand choice, according to the survey, were brand reputation and price.
Only 28 percent of the consumers surveyed remained loyal to their OE brand, down from 32 percent of those surveyed the previous year. And only 35 percent of the respondents intended to remain loyal to their replacement brand when they make their next tire purchase.