LOUISVILLE, Ky.-Boosting retreading business is no easy task. Just ask the experts.
Retreaders are constantly having their prices undercut by the competition, their product dogged by the media and their sales pitches shot down by potential customers cutting fleet expenses.
No, it's no easy task. But it's not an impossible task either, according to a number of retreading and trucking industry experts who spoke during the Hawkinson Companies annual dealer meeting at the American Retreaders' Association headquarters in Louisville, late last year.
``In the 1990s the canned pitch sales presentation is dead. It's obsolete. It doesn't work,'' said Jeffrey R. Wilson, McGriff Treading Co. Inc. director of marketing and new business development. ``You have got to be able to talk on your feet. You've got to be quick, and you've got to adapt to the customer.''
Common sense, ingenuity and persistence were the themes of four presentations delivered to about 90 meeting attendees.
The sales process begins by choosing a large, accessible pool of potential customer candidates, according to Marvin Bozarth, executive director of the American Retreaders' Association.
Despite a decline in the number of retreaded tires being used by the U.S. military, most retreading categories are holding steady or have increased during the past year, Mr. Bozarth said. Furthermore, school districts still remain a large potential selling area for retreading companies.
``School buses are an easy sell,'' he said. ``It's a perfect maintenance vehicle. It's one of the best maintained vehicles in the country. And you've got the word of mouth to sell to school bus districts because there are thousands of school bus districts in this country that can give you a good word.''
Business opportunities continue to present themselves among commercial trucking firms as well, from companies that don't use retreads, have quit using retreads or are unhappy with the retreads they are using, said Robert Deal, a trucking industry consultant.
But he cautioned retreaders about going after large, ``1,000-truck fleets'' that require national operations. Instead, smaller retread operations should concentrate on companies that operate fleets of between 50 and 99 trucks-a market niche that represents about 19 percent of the total U.S. commercial fleet, he said.
Once an available and realistic potential customer has been located, retread sales representatives should work toward separating their company from the competition, Mr. Wilson said.
One way of attracting attention to your dealership is through a creative warranty program, according to Ollie Knight, a Hawkinson representative for Ohio, eastern Kentucky, North Carolina, the Northeastern U.S. and the eastern provinces of Canada.
``A warranty really is a sales device, and you should be treating it accordingly,'' Mr. Knight told the dealers. ``Most retreaders I talk to want to think of (warranties) as an expense, which is really backwards thinking.''
A warranty's main benefit, similar to an insurance policy, is the peace of mind it offers a consumer, he said. Therefore, the more a warranty covers, the more peace of mind a consumer will gain.
``Figure out how much you could lose (through the warranty), bump your price up, tell them you'll guarantee your casings and you're ahead of the competition,'' Mr. Knight explained.
The same idea works for casings provided by the customer, he continued-noting many retreaders refuse to warranty casings provided by fleets.
``What's the difference? You either know how to inspect them or you don't know how to inspect them. You either can pick out good casings or you can't pick out good casings,'' he said.
A friendly, sincere sales approach is another effective method of differentiating a company from its competition, according to Mr. Wilson. His suggestion: Don't worry about getting a quick sale.
``Wait for them to give you these little indications that `Yes, somewhere in my perfect little world there is a problem,' '' Mr. Wilson said.
``And as soon as they unlock that door, that's your chance to walk in and start presenting your pitch, custom tailored to that individual's buying motivation.''
Becoming a ``problem solver'' for a potential customer-even if it is a problem unrelated to your retread business-helps build a lasting relationship, Mr. Wilson said.
``If you slowly build your customer relationship...you won't lose him because somebody comes in the door with a product that's a dollar or two less,'' he said. ``You'll maintain that account because you're his problem solver, and he has confidence in you.''
The sales pitch
Eventually, however, a sales representative must ``pitch'' the company's retreads, and taking a novel, interesting approach that makes the customer think is usually the best method, he said.
For example, many fleet managers contend retreads are unproven products. However, Mr. Wilson suggested countering that type of an argument by applying similar logic to new tires:
``That (new) tire has never run up and down a road. It's never carried a load. It's never had to provide traction. It's never had to provide braking. It's never gone through the abuse a driver's going to put it through,'' he said acting out a mock sales pitch.
``On the other hand, a retreaded tire has already run 100,000, 200,000 maybe 300,000 miles. It's been through the test track, the torcher. It's run overloaded, underinflated, everything that could possibly happen to it out there...that's a proven product.
``Now you have taken a proven product at that point and went back and merely replaced a single component on that product that was worn out: the tread.''
Having the patience to stick with a potential customer is crucial in an age when the average buyer will say ``no'' five times to a sales presentation before finally buying a product, Mr. Deal said.
``Don't lay all the cards on the table the first time,'' he said. ``Hit him with five or six of the things you think he ought to know about your company and some of the things you're going to do...because you want to come back.''
Added retread business is out there for persistent companies, he continued, since the American Marketing Executives association reports as many as 80 percent of sales reps give up on an account after only the first or second rejection.