REXDALE, Ontario-BTS Corp. is storming the Ontario tire market. In just two years, the company has established eight company-owned and three franchise locations, as well as 20 associate stores, three warehouses and a distribution center, all in Ontario. And the family-owned company doesn't intend to stop there.
BTS soon will open its ninth company-owned outlet and plans, within five years, to have 100 locations throughout Canada, according to Carmine Coletti, vice president of marketing and planning and the son of company founder Adrian Coletti.
Furthermore, the younger Mr. Coletti said, the company has found a way to compete with Wal-Mart and Canada's mega-retailer of tires: 400-store Canadian Tire Corp.
What's the secret?
``Probably none for most people in the U.S.,'' Mr. Coletti said.
Instead of creating a marketing strategy from scratch, BTS has thrived using staples of many U.S. tire dealers' advertising approach, including extended warranties, free lifetime flat repair and rotations, ``total-price'' advertising and tire fact pamphlets.
According to Mr. Coletti, those programs are new to Canadian consumers, who have rewarded the firm's efforts with repeat visits.
``It works because there is a real need for an operation like ours,'' said Mr. Coletti, whose father entered the automotive business in the early 1970s with a BP service station in Rexdale. After a number of expansions, including a move into the wholesale tire business, he started BTS in 1992.
The company's own tire and automotive service outlets as well as its franchise locations operate as ``Bargain Tire Auto Centres''; associate outlets operate as ``Tires 4 Less.'' All offer brake, exhaust, oil-change and tune-up services.
The decision to break the business into franchisees and associate dealers allows the company to cater to different types of owners, Mr. Coletti said. Franchisees receive more advertising and marketing support from the company, while associate dealers are independent store-owners who feel the need to belong to a buying group, he said. BTS hopes to convert all its company-owned retail stores into franchises.
Not one to simply ``steal'' ideas, BTS puts a twist on its U.S.-born marketing programs, pumping as much as $280,000 into the most recent consumer campaign: a full-color pamphlet and coupon book called Your Family's Car Care Guide for...Summer.
The 16-page booklet outlines Michelin, BFGoodrich, Uniroyal, Goodyear, Pirelli, Yokohama and the company's private brand lines along with consumer information tips, including how to rotate tires and read sidewall identification codes.
Mr. Coletti said associate dealers kicked in about $20,000 for the campaign, which also included newspaper and radio advertisements announcing the coming of the car care guide.
Actually, Mr. Coletti said, most of the company's programs are heavily advertised in the newspaper or on radio. And those advertisements typically have a slightly sarcastic tone.
One newspaper advertisement touting Bargain Tire's ``total price'' marketing approach pictured a mock newspaper ad with a price point followed by an asterisk. ``This little symbol, affectionately known as an asterisk, is a symbol of `additional costs' that most retailers like to down play,'' the ad stated.
Although Bargain Tires' advertised prices are about 5 percent higher than those of its competitors, the company still guarantees the lowest total price, inasmuch as its advertised price includes mounting, balancing, used tire disposal, lifetime flat repairs and rotations and an extended road-hazard warranty.
``Our programs don't stop with the advertising...,'' Mr. Coletti said. In fact, it's the support BTS offers its dealers that he is most proud of, especially the company's new warranty and credit card programs.
The company's ``Value Program'' provides free lifetime flat repair and rotations, and an extended road-hazard warranty that provides free repair or replacement of tires from the time all manufacturers' warranties expire until the tread depth reaches the legal limit of 2/32 inch. An explanation of the warranty, space for the company to record tire maintenance and a list of tire care facts is all provided in a heavy-stock folder that fits in a glove compartment.
Mr. Coletti envisions the program eventually becoming a nationwide service policy.
BTS also recently established its ``Card Care'' program, offered through Beneficial Canada Inc., which provides consumers with a 90-days-same-as-cash option on all tire and auto service purchases.
The theme behind all BTS's programs is another age-old idea, Mr. Coletti said: ``Treat your customers well and they'll come back.''
For instance, a number of Bargain Tire Centres allow anyone to come in and fill out a card with the names and birth dates of family members. That information is entered into a computer, and Bargain Tire later sends out birthday cards and coupons at the appropriate time. ``So many places forget their customers are people,'' Mr. Coletti quipped.