Successful companies in the trucking industry are the ones that have come up with innovative solutions to shippers' needs and capitalized on their own respective strengths. J.B. Hunt has led the way in intermodal shipping utilizing the railroads to move truck load shipments across country and reduce their overall costs per mile.
Yellow Freight and Roadway Express led the LTL (less than truckload) segment of the industry by designing new software packages allowing shippers to determine their freight rates themselves, track their own freight and conduct simple and easy billing.
They were successful because they identified their customers' needs and developed innovative solutions to them based on the strengths they already had within their companies.
Providing a better product or service than the competition is what makes any business successful. In the commercial tire area, identifying fleet needs and offering innovative solutions to them adds value that fleets recognize and desire.
The key here is that the dealer must understand his fleet customers' needs in addition to his own business; knowing who he is and what he does best. Then he must develop a new approach or service that capitalizes on these needs and strengths.
In the truck tire business there are several basic products and services that everyone takes for granted and upon which no one bothers to improve. These things have been done in certain ways for years and as long as you can get business just by lowering prices, why try something innovative?
Innovation takes work. You have to sit down and Think! Analyze! Evaluate! Look at things differently!
If you see only what everybody else sees in the fleet/tire dealer relationship, then you are a victim of the tire business, not a manager of your destiny.
Let's first look at obtaining new commercial accounts. Usually, the standard procedure is for dealers to call on their local fleets, armed with their tire line and/or retread brochures and price lists. The first call may be a cold call or perhaps one with an appointment.
Upon entering the office area, the dealer finds another tire dealer sitting in the waiting room and tire sales literature from two other dealers sitting on the customer's desk.
All the literature looks pretty much alike. The sales pitches are similar as well. ``Here is my product. It's just as good as Brand X. Here is your price. Try it, you'll like it. Trust me.''
If you were the customer, who would you buy tires from? Fleets working on the Truck of Tomorrow at The Maintenance Council have considered the possibility of riding on a cushion of air instead of tires just so they don't have to face these types of situations.
A different approach is to introduce yourself to the fleet and get to know the fleet customer. Find out what his operation is, what his needs are, what problems he has been experiencing and ask to see some tractors and trailers.
Walk around the fleet's yard and look for potential opportunities such as irregular wear patterns, tire casings problems, retread failures.
Check out the tire shop and observe how tires are mounted and demounted, and repaired.
Talk with the tire shop personnel about the needs they have and the problems they are seeing, and check out its staffing.
Look for the scrap tire pile and make a mental note of its organization, source of tire problem information and potential value as a sales tool.
Then discuss what you noticed with the fleet. Other needs and problems probably will surface based on your observations.
Depending upon what you found in the tour of the yard, ask to come back and perform a fleet survey and scrap tire analysis. This will give you the proper information to suggest the right tires and maintenance procedures for the customer's operation.
It also will provide you with the time to develop a service program specifically designed to meet this individual fleet's needs.
This could include regular fleet surveys, scrap tire analysis, special tire delivery schedules, tire repair training, road service, outsourcing tire maintenance etc.
During your first visit, don't give him anything but your business card and information on your dealership. This piece of literature should be professional in appearance and should provide the customer with information about the dealership, how old it is, its size, the services it offers and the knowledgeable people who can help fleets minimize their tire cost per mile.
Then, after performing the fleet survey and scrap tire analysis, return to the fleet with a program that is designed just for it.
The tires or retread designs you present to the customer are your recommendation for his operation, which will address as best as possible the problems you discovered and the needs his fleet has. The services you offer also are designed just for this fleet as are your prices for these products and services.
Should the fleet need services that you are not comfortable providing yourself, offer to arrange to have someone else provide them. (An example of this would be in-house tire repair training. Tire repair material companies as well as retread companies can perform this service.)
Now, between you and the other three dealers who left product literature and price lists, who would you want to buy new tires or retreads from? (The answer is not the guy with the lowest price!)
While price is still a substantial consideration, the value-added services you offer cannot be ignored by the fleet and are important to it as well.
You identified the customer's needs and offered services based on your company's strengths, which will not disappoint your customer. You did something different.
You earned this fleet's business, which differentiates your company from the other dealerships. You were innovative.
Even if you don't get the business right away, I guarantee that neither you nor your dealership will be forgotten.
Because you exceeded all the customer's expectations. More importantly, you have proven your company can be a partner with the fleet in reducing its tire costs per mile.
These ideas are nothing new. They are basic to tire maintenance, which involves selecting the right tire for the job and maintaining it properly to achieve the lowest cost per mile.
You have just helped the fleet do that, which is an invaluable service.
What is innovative is that you offered this service before you ever presented the fleet buyer with a price list or even asked for his business.
Ms. Fisher, former president of Roadway Tire Co., is an industry consultant based in Columbus, Ohio.