RESTON, Va.—An expanded credit card program, new national promotional campaigns and a state-of-the-art computer management system are among the benefits American Car Care Centers Inc. will offer member dealers in 2000. ACCC speakers outlined these and other ACCC features at a Feb. 11 kickoff meeting as part of the American Tire Distributors Reston VII Trade Fair in Reston. American Tire Distributors, the wholesaling arm of Manassas, Va.-based Merchant's Inc., is one of ACCC's founding members.
"When we left the last century, we had all sorts of lists," said Pete Falco, ACCC program manager for American Tire Distributors, referring to the "Ten Best" lists spawned by the end of the millennium.
"I think we can agree, however, that the `Best Tire Marketing Program of the 20th Century' is American Car Care Centers."
Mr. Falco and other speakers at the meeting left no doubt that if ACCC can't continue to make that boast, it won't be for lack of effort.
Celebrating its 10th anniversary only last year, ACCC is the largest independent tire marketing group in North America, with 19 distributor members and approximately 1,000 dealerships.
The goals of ACCC are simple but high: to provide independent tire dealerships with intensive marketing programs, a high-profile public identity and their own line of products and private-brand tires—American Radials, made by Michelin Americas Small Tires exclusively for ACCC.
"American Radials are something you can offer the public that no one else can," said Mike Kress, president of Marlboro Tire & Automotive, Upper Marlboro, Md., an American Tire Distributors customer and ACCC member, at the trade fair the day after the ACCC meeting. "You remain independent, but have the identity of being part of the ACCC team. The synergies are great."
To be an ACCC member, however, a dealer must meet a long list of specific criteria. Some of them have to do with ACCC identification—members must agree to display the ACCC logo at the dealership, with all personnel wearing ACCC uniforms.
But most of the criteria concern dealership image and level of service. All ACCC member stores must be clean, bright and inviting; technicians must be certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE).
Of more than 5,000 dealer customers in the American Tire Distributors network, only about 110 are ACCC members, Mr. Falco said. "ACCC membership is something to aspire to."
ACCC's "Five-Star" program is designed to honor ACCC dealers "who have gone above and beyond the goals all dealers want to achieve," said David Crawford, ACCC national director of marketing. At the Reston meeting, he presented Five-Star and Four-Star awards to regional dealers who in the past year best lived up to the program's ideal.
"Customers don't want old-looking tire shops," Mr. Crawford said. "In some places, a battery might be sitting on the floor, or the magazines in the waiting room might be old and torn. Sometimes you lose customers because of things like that."
The perks ACCC members will receive this year include an expanded "Ad-Pack"—a comprehensive marketing tool giving member dealers everything they need to achieve and maintain a high profile in their local markets, Mr. Crawford said.
It includes prepackaged TV and radio spots, a CD-ROM and direct mail ideas and layouts. New television ads and turn-key direct mail make the marketing program stronger this year, he said, as does "Ace," the new ACCC eagle mascot, which will feature prominently in ACCC promotional campaigns.
ACCC's successful credit card program also will expand this year to encompass commercial/fleet accounts, Mr. Crawford said. The fleet credit card will cover tires, wheels and auto service; give ACCC members access to more than 2.5 million vehicles listed in the National Fleet Directory; and allow for electronic transfer of funds in three business days.
ACCC national promotions in 2000 will kick off in March and April with the "Cross Country Challenge" for American Radial passenger models, he said. This program will be succeeded by bonuses throughout the year for customers who buy a set of four tires, including:
$25 worth of gasoline, in April and May;
$40 cash back, in June and July; and
a $30 Best Buy gift certificate, in September through November.
The American Way Business Management System, ACCC's point-of-sale computer program for tire retailers, is now widely available, Mr. Crawford said. AWBMS offers a complete computerized accounting program to ACCC dealers, as well as inventory management, parts and labor lookup, a customer reminder program and management/sales reports.
"The ACCC program is like the ham in ham and eggs," said speaker Larry C. Nicholls, president of Wholesale Tire Distributors, Logan, Utah, and a charter ACCC member. "In ham and eggs, the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed!"
Opening his first store July 4, 1976, Mr. Nicholls said he now has three wholesale warehouses; 51 ACCC dealerships, both company-owned and dealer-franchised; and six more outlets "in various stages of construction."
For all Wholesale Tire Distributors stores, total commitment to ACCC is a given, he said. "100 percent of our stores are Five-Star certified."
The financial rewards of this commitment are readily apparent, he added. Last year, after-tax operating profits for Wholesale Tire Distributors dealerships averaged 306 percent above the national average. For ACCC members in general, profits averaged 279 percent above the average, he said.
A related story, on American Tire Distributors' trade fair, is on page 21.