MEMPHIS, Tenn.—American Car Care Centers is introducing a flurry of programs to help its dealers attract new commercial business and market their stores more efficiently. The Memphis-based marketing group also has signed a new member-distributor and has renewed its popular Ameri-Cash program.
ACCC currently is launching a national fleet credit card that will allow its dealers to service about 2.5 million fleet customers, process sales electronically and receive their money within three business days, Dave Crawford, ACCC director of marketing, told Tire Business.
For fleets that already use Wright Express' fleet credit card to purchase fuel, ACCC and Wright have teamed up to offer the option of charging tires and vehicle service to the same card, he said.
``We're the first group to roll it out nationwide. It's kind of an untouched market for us,'' he said. ``A lot of independent dealers don't do national account programs because it's cumbersome, and rubber companies set these accounts up with the big fleets.''
Already, ACCC dealers have begun accepting the cards for purchases. But ACCC isn't stopping there, Mr. Crawford said.
The group and Wright Express are developing a co-branded card ACCC dealers can use to sign up fleet accounts and provide fleet managers with monthly vehicle reports.
Because transactions are processed electronically on the card, ACCC dealers can in turn improve cash flow and eliminate bad debt write-offs.
Mr. Crawford called that ``a real strong plus for our dealers. You take a smaller dealer for whom cash flow is a big problem," he said. "Business slows down, receivables get higher...and a guy can't pay his bills because he's in a cash crunch.''
The co-branded card should be available to members by mid-September.
In addition to a new commercial credit card, the group's Ameri-Cash incentive program, launched in April 1998, has been such a big hit among ACCC members, Mr. Crawford said, that the group has renewed the program with American Express to May 2001.
Dealers earn credits with American Express for ACCC products they sell and can then use the credits toward purchases from any merchant who accepts American Express, as well as towards vacation reservations.
On Sept. 1, ACCC will offer dealers a catalog of various products for which they can redeem their Ameri-Cash credits, including electronics, sports and household goods, lawn and garden items, furniture and jewelry. Merchandise will be shipped directly to members.
Mr. Crawford said 95 percent of ACCC dealers participate in the program. He knows of members who have accumulated $10,000 through Ameri-Cash and have used their money towards lumber for a deck or a family trip to Bermuda.
``If the product mix is right...and they have a high-volume dealership, those guys are really going to reap the benefits,'' he said.
Another program the group has recently developed is a turn-key advertising package—including accompanying radio and TV spots—that Mr. Crawford said members can easily customize for their stores. ACCC soon will be holding regional meetings to distribute that information. Dealers will be able to take the commercials to their local or cable TV stations and superimpose their dealership name at the end of each.
With the package, which will come with elements such as music, members also will be able to create their own commercials. Print elements, such as clip art, also will be available.
Each dealer will receive a book on how to use the ad package and the pros and cons of direct mail and newspaper ads, Mr. Crawford said. That way, all ACCC dealers will advertise and market a consistent message to customers nationwide.
A new check guarantee program ACCC rolled out 90 days ago has been well received, he noted. Members are reimbursed for bounced checks by Equifax, which then collects the money from the customer.
The group will launch a new passenger economy tire from private brander Itochu International Inc. in September. Called Guardian, it replaces the Wynstar brand that ACCC exclusively marketed in North America. The new tire is T- and H-rated and will be available to dealers in a full line of sizes.
In June ACCC's board re-elected Chairman Claude Case to a second two-year term—a first for the marketing group. Mr. Case has shown strong leadership in pressing ACCC dealers to become computerized, Mr. Crawford said.
``The board thought we needed continuity in the program...to show the industry we're stable,'' he said.
Continuing its expansion goal, in July ACCC signed Autotire Car Care Centers—with 23 stores in the St. Louis area—as a member distributor.
``The American Car Care Centers program will help us build our retail business in the future by providing us with the marketing tools needed to remain competitive,'' Autotire President John Ronsick said. ``The program is a natural fit for our business since we are a strong Alliance dealer,'' he added, referring to Michelin North America's dealer program.
Autotire reported $22 million in annual sales in 1997.
ACCC now has 18 distributors and 927 participating dealerships, Mr. Crawford said, and two more dealers ``are on the horizon,'' though he declined to comment further.
The signing of Autotire gives ACCC not only one of the dominant tire retailers in St. Louis, but also entrance into an area it hadn't previously covered, Mr. Crawford said. He pointed out that many dealers are finding it tough to compete against large chains and mass merchandisers.
``A lot of dealers right now, no matter how big they're getting, are starting to realize they need to be part of a group like ours," he said. "Even though they're strong and in one market and may have 20 stores, in the grand scheme of things across the country, they're still a small dealer.
``We still have advantages we can give them to make them stronger than what they are.''