A short glance back over the last several decades shows that a multitude of changes have taken place in the tire industry. Over the years, our industry has seen a wide variety of outlets competing for the consumer's retail business. Tire specialists, manufacturer-owned stores, gasoline stations, department stores and, most recently, warehouse clubs all have coveted the motorist's tire-buying dollars.
In 1976, the first warehouse club came into being in California. Soon, the selling of tires by manufacturers to growing numbers of such outlets across the U.S. became a sore point with dealers facing the low advertised tire prices of these discounters.
Since the market entry of warehouse clubs, the independent tire specialist has sought to distinguish his dealership from these and other price-conscious competitors.
In many cases, tire specialists succeed by using a variety of approaches-always with the objective of giving the consumer better service.
As always, it is the consumer who ultimately will decide where tires are bought-often basing this decision on subjective considerations.
Attractive new tire and automotive service outlets are springing up all over the country and the competition to attract customers has never been hotter. Thus many independent tire specialists will have to clean up their image.
Every owner or manager must assess how his dealership is perceived by customers or risk a substantial loss of business.
True, the battle is half won when your service is good and the service work performed properly. But it's still necessary to get customers through the door-and this is where the typical dealership's premises are of utmost importance.
Your building is the first thing the customer sees when arriving. Therefore, these premises play a major role in determining how your company will be perceived.
Does your outlet have sufficient space for customers to park their cars? Many times I've seen the parking areas cluttered with cars parked haphazardly. This can force prospective customers to pass you by. Parking areas should be clearly marked and kept free for customer use.
Equally important is the general state of repair of your premises. It's imperative that the outside of the building be kept clean and in good repair. Fallen letters on your sign may be costly to replace. But after seeing such a dilapidated sign, a potential customer may decide to buy from a more presentable outlet.
It's also imperative that the outlet's forecourt be kept clean. Imagine what the customer thinks after seeing more discarded carcasses than new tires when driving in.
Once inside, make sure customers have a pleasant waiting area to sit in rather than having them stand around looking lost. Provide them with up-to-date reading matter (not old tire magazines) and complimentary coffee. A TV set also helps keep customers diverted-especially those accompanied by children.
And let's talk about female customers-who now represent a more important growth market than men.
Women now account for six in every 10 new cars bought by those between 18 and 24 years old. Most have different automotive service preferences than men and many appear more responsive to an outlet's services and appearance than its prices.
Stories abound of dirty waiting areas and workshops, long waits and the ``couldn't-care-less'' attitudes of service personnel. Indifferent attitudes to customer satisfaction drive customers away.
Service is all important to customers of both sexes and the employees they deal with can have an important affect on how your firm will be judged.
Often, the lowest-paid workers are those most frequently in contact with your customers. Yet their attitude and ability can mean the difference between the customer returning or never coming back.
When your business provides a wide range of services and products in attractive surroundings, it doesn't need to have the lowest prices in town.
Because most everyone loves a bargain, it's likely the warehouse clubs and other discount operations always will be with us.
Fortunately, most customers evaluate tire and automotive service outlets in terms of benefits-not prices-and whether or not they answer their particular consumer needs.
In other words, ``Don't sell me tires. Sell me freedom from worry and low cost-per-mile.''
There is no hard-and-fast rule as to what your dealership's profile should be. But it must be consistent and aimed at attracting customers.
Examine your organization critically by trying to see it through your customer's eyes. Would you shop there? Or would you go to your competitor?