I've been in the tire business for 30 years, the last 16 operating a wholesale-only tire warehouse covering southeastern Massachusetts and all of Rhode Island. We sell to numerous Ford dealers in this marketing area. To help them better understand the need for selling tires at their dealerships, we have offered tire knowledge and sales seminars at their places of business, free of charge.
Each year when we start to solicit participants in this program, it's almost like begging. From management on down, no one sees a need for those clinics. If we conduct four or five of them a year, that's a lot. So, what's going to change with Ford's new tire program?
We all know that customers still need to be sold. The idea they will automatically buy the same brand tire that came with the car is stupid. Customers want choices. They want to be told of a product's features and benefits, and ultimately, they want us to help make the intelligent choice for them. Without tire training, a service writer or technician in an auto dealership won't be able to do this.
Another potential stumbling block is that Ford expects these dealers to stock tires. My quick estimate for a Ford dealer to have a basic stock not only of different tire sizes, but also the different brands is 300 units.
Often, it is tough to sell a car dealer four tires on a special for stock let alone listen to his bellyaching about where to put the tires, inventory control, and ultimately paying for this inventory. Of course, this same dealership will put a hundred fan belts on the wall—maybe a two-year supply.
It has always been my thought that car dealerships are tire stores without the identification. They have everything a tire store has and maybe even more—tire-mounting machine, balancer, alignment rack, ASE-certified techs— but no sign outside saying anything about tires.
When I first entered the business I worked for Goodyear. At that time, we had a satellite program in which the car dealer supplied the location and equipment, and Goodyear supplied the tires and manpower.
I actually had one of my salespeople as manager of this satellite shop. He was responsible for inspecting every car that came into the garage for its tire needs. We also took care of the used car department.
In those days, we did a big changeover business, upgrading the original equipment tires to premium tires.
In every one of these instances, it was a trained Goodyear employee doing the selling. Even with this super program, I don't think one of those satellites is open today.
I have told numerous customers who asked about a consignment of tires that until your money is sitting on the shelf, you will never have that strong desire to sell that product over all the other products you offer. You need that motivation when you turn the key each and every morning to ask yourself, "What do I need to sell to get some of my investment back?"
As for me, looking at the extremely low compensation that we get for supplying the tires, you can be assured that we will not bend over backwards to help educate these dealerships—especially when some of the prices Ford bills its dealers are below my cost. If a car dealership wanted to discuss the old satellite program with me, that would be different.
But the Ford program, as I see it, is destined to fail. With the car dealerships' lack of interest in making more of a financial commitment than they already have, and the personnel there saying they're being forced into this program, we may see a backlash in the end where Ford dealers sell even fewer tires.
Nicolson Tire Co. Inc.
New Bedford, Mass.