PLYMOUTH MEETING, Pa.-Avellino's Tire & Auto Service Centers expects to establish itself as the ``performance tire specialist'' in its market with the debut of dedicated in-store performance centers. President Daniel Gillings described the ``Performance Plus'' centers as state-of-the-art regional ``boutiques''-enclosed in-store display areas where owners of high performance (HP) and luxury vehicles can meet with trained specialists for private consultations on their tire/wheel needs.
The idea for the Performance Plus centers had been brewing for the past several years, according to Mr. Gillings. The plans came to fruition recently due to customers' increased need for performance tire information and expertise.
After researching the demographics of its Philadelphia-area market, the dealership opted to open four centers inside existing stores in Springfield, Lancaster, Warminster and Bryn Mawr, Pa. The grand openings were July 9.
A Performance Plus center is an enclosed display area within the showroom/waiting area of a store that includes performance tire and wheel displays and a private sitting area so the customer can talk privately with one of Avellino's performance specialists and view a video on HP tire applications and configurations.
Soon all the dealership's 20 stores will be capable of handling high performance applications, even without an in-house performance center. But owners of higher performance vehicles, such as Porsches, may be referred to an outlet with a Performance Plus center, Mr. Gillings said.
Avellino's has been selling high performance tires for years, but now ``we've just comitted ourselves more to (this area),'' Mr. Gillings said.
With the increasing sophistication of performance car configurations and suspension systems, dealerships that specialize in HP tires ``have to get involved in training their people, in addition to having a tire offering,'' he added.
Since January, Avellino's has been training 10 employees in HP tire service, assigning them to in-house training and to courses offered by the various tire makers.
Now the dealership is banking on word-of-mouth referrals to establish that ``we are the specialists,'' Mr. Gillings said. ``That's where the opportunity lies, in the referral business to luxury car owners.''
Currently about 40 percent of Avellino's sales are HP-related, and within that share, 20 percent is what Mr. Gillings called ``higher performance''-speed ratings of H and higher. He said he expects the higher-performance share to increase as the Performance Plus concept catches on.
While the higher performance market is stagnant, he said, the market for speed-rated tires on sedans and luxury cars has been growing ``by leaps and bounds.''
In addition to relying on customer referrals, the dealership has been talking with luxury car dealerships and car clubs to build awareness of Avellino's high performance specialization.
Avellino's also plans to promote the new service with ads in regional editions of Sports Illustrated, Car and Driver and other magazines; through direct mail to car club members; and in promotions connected with local sports and charity events.
Once the ``wrinkles'' are worked out of the existing Performance Plus centers, the dealership will consider opening additional regional centers in stores in New Jersey and Harrisburg, Pa., Mr. Gillings said.
The dealership offers Michelin, BFGoodrich, Bridgestone, Firestone, Yokohama, Pirelli and Dunlop brand speed-rated tires, as well as custom wheels.
Avellino's, founded in 1923, serves eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and northern Delaware.
Owned by Chairman Donald Avellino Sr., the company, incorporated as Tire Service Co. Inc., includes the 20 Avellino's retail outlets; a wholesale operation, U.S. Tire Wholesale, with two distribution centers in Pennsylvania; and a cellular phone business, Personal Cellular Systems.
The company posted sales of $30 million last year and projects a 15-percent increase this year.
Plans include opening two more retail stores in the next 12 months and, via the U.S. Tire Wholesale division, developing an associate dealer network under the American Car Care Centers marketing program.