AKRON, Ohio-On May 18, Bill Burris, owner of GT Auto Services Inc. in West Palm Beach, Fla., welcomed 28 women into his store for a two-hour course on tires and auto maintenance. He served refreshments in his showroom, including chicken wings and finger-sandwiches. He was surprised by the results.
Three local TV stations covered the event, includ-ing WPTV Channel 5 in West Palm Beach, which ran a four-minute spot during the evening news, according to Mr. Burris.
Business definitely has increased, he said. Many of the women even have referred their friends to the dealership.
``We've done some advertising before, but we've never done anything that brought in as much as this did,'' said Mr. Burris, who bought the store about a year ago.
The course is called the Ladies' Car Care Clinic. Continental General Tire in Akron introduced the program last fall to help its dealers more effectively appeal to women customers. Along with the clinic, CGT developed a Ladies' Car Care Clinic Kit to help dealers get started.
The kit shows dealers how to plan, publicize and follow up after a session, and includes a ``How To'' booklet, detailed outline, preprinted ad slick, special safety checklist handout and certificates of completion.
``It's a great public relations piece, and it's inexpensive to run,'' said Kevin Naumann, CGT's national manager of dealer development and sales training. Almost every dealer who has done a clinic has had an increase in customers, according to Mr. Naumann.
There is usually no charge to attend the classes, which top off at around 30 participants, according to Bonnie Solon, an account executive at CGT who helps dealers set up their initial clinics.
The first hour of the course covers tire nomenclature, to help women better understand what they are getting when they buy tires, and tire maintenance.
During the second hour, the women take a look underneath the car. They learn about the brakes, exhaust system, steering and suspension. They then explore under the hood. The women also learn how to change a tire and jump-start a car.
``They like the hands-on stuff more than anything else,'' said Paul Bernstein of Delta World Tire in Metairie, La., who held his first clinic last June.
Participants receive a Ladies' Car Care Clinic booklet, a safety checklist, a pen, a ``SEND HELP'' sign for use in roadside emergencies, a tire gauge and a certificate of completion for the course.
``Once they've been through the clinic, they understand what the technician is talking about when they take their vehicle in for service,'' Mr. Bernstein said.
He became interested in the program when he noticed what many other dealers have-that women now account for about half the dealership's customers. ``They're doing a lot of more of the purchasing now,'' Mr. Bernstein said.
CGT found that women make about 80 percent of the calls to dealers for tires and services, so the company must adjust to appeal to them, Ms. Solon said. The course has sparked the interest of many women, she added. ``The enthusiasm and interest are incredible.''
Mr. Bernstein said that he has about 100 women on a waiting list for the course.
The course is more than educational. It generates a comfort level for women when they buy tires or have maintenance done on their cars, said Ms. Solon.
``It's more of a good-will thing,'' she said. ``Spending time one-on-one with the mechanic and owner builds a trust relationship.''
Mr. Burris agrees: ``The customers see us and meet us. That's the reason for doing this.''