I had an enlightening tire shopping experience recently that made me realize all the ``good'' sales advice of trade seminars, consultants and successful dealers conveyed in the pages of TIRE BUSINESS isn't necessarily taken to heart. We often report how industry gurus stress the importance of portraying a tire as a quality product with driver-specific features, rather than selling it as a commodity item.
So I decided to find out how competing opera-tions, with different formats, sell tires. My trip included visits to six tire stores, clustered within a quarter-mile radius of a shopping mall. The outlets included a small independent dealership, a Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.-owned Tire Station, a Sears, Roebuck and Co.-owned Tire America, a Firestone Tire & Service Center, a Goodyear Auto Service Center and a Sears store.
I expected at least a couple of these operations would offer a different approach to selling tires.
Yet in the highly competitive area where I went shopping, price was the selling tool-even though I wasn't shopping for the lowest price.
All but the two tire company stores had no other customers when I visited, so there was ample time to give me the full sales pitch.
As I entered each store, I explained I wanted a set of tires for my 1993 Ford Taurus. In a couple of cases, I was asked for desired features in a tire to which I responded that this was the family sedan and I wanted good traction and long wear.
I gave each retailer an opportunity to sell me on anything other than price, so I never mentioned the ``P-word.'' Yet in every instance, the salesperson asked the tire size, called up the available lines on the computer and pointed me to the lowest-priced tire.
And in all cases, except at the Firestone and Goodyear outlets, that tire was a private label. The salespeople always quickly qualified the private brand by naming the manufacturer.
From there, each salesperson, sometimes at my prompting, noted the next higher-mileage warranted or higher-priced line, usually a flag brand, on an ascending price scale.
Interestingly, BFS's Tire Station offered a Goodyear Regatta, including mounting and balancing, for about $11 less than the Goodyear store. This tire was prominently displayed inside the Tire Station, yet the salesperson listed all the applicable lines for my car, without mentioning the Goodyear-until I asked.
Tire Station also offered a Firestone 680 for about $5 less than the nearby Firestone store.
Meanwhile, the Firestone store had its Tire Zone display of Bridgestone- and Firestone-brand tires with accompanying placards listing the particular tire's features and prices for each size. The Michelin tire display had a conspicuously blank placard, except for a line of small type stating the store was not an authorized Michelin dealer.
I usually had to prompt each establishment to give me the add-on charges for mounting and balancing, which ranged from nothing at the independent dealership to $12.50 at Sears.
The lowest-priced tires offered to me were all different brands with varying mileage warranties, but based on my choices the independent dealer had the lowest out-the-door price-a 60,000-mile warranted private label tire. Tire Station was next with a 55,000-mile Dayton tire; Tire America third with a 70,000-mile private line and Sears fourth with a 55,000-mile Sears brand.
However, there was no discussion about the features of a given tire, why one was better or different than another etc.-again, unless I asked.
To be fair, some of these stores had at least one ``twist'' in selling their tires, for example:
The independent dealer noted that his price included mounting, balancing and valve stems, which ``makes us different.'' When asked about alignment service, he said customers are given a computer read-out of time spent and services conducted on the car. He also explained the importance of maintenance in extending tire life, especially for my front-wheel-drive Taurus.
Tire America had the most inclusive ``sales pitch,'' in my estimation, by first turning the computer screen to me so I could view all the applicable tire lines for my car, the ticket prices and sale prices. The salesperson talked about some of the features of each, gave his recommendation, noted the store's 150-percent, low-price guarantee and the bulletin board where competitors' ads were posted, mentioned that the tires come with lifetime rotation and balancing service and finished his presentation by offering his business card.
The Firestone store was the only one that handed me a manufacturer's brochure on the recommended line. The salesperson also offered his business card and encouraged me to add my name to their mailing list for coupons and flyers.
Granted, many consumers shop around for the lowest price. But it's a shame all these outlets missed a great opportunity to ``sell up'' and instead fell into the trap of selling on price.
Ms. McCarron is a Tire Business Staff Reporter.