LAS CRUCES, N.M.—Looking at the Adams American Car Care Center Web site, you'll find information about the dealership, and the tires and services it sells, but also a prominent headline blaring "Firestone Recall Info."
Click on the headline and you'll discover an entire page devoted to the causes of tire failures.
It's one way Adam's ACCC is trying to inform its customers about tire and automotive service issues while creating top-of-mind awareness with them. "We have a philosophy that we stand by,. and that is: We provide information to help our customers make decisions," said Bill Adams, general manager and co-owner of the Las Cruces dealership with his father, Floyde. "If they know where the information came from, they're likely to use us in the future."
The Adamses apply this communication approach to a variety of marketing efforts, including a nationwide dealership locator service currently under development.
The father-son team have aired a weekly half-hour radio show for five years that's similar to National Public Radio's Car Talk, hosted by Tom and Ray Magliozzi, alias "Click & Clack." Only they're known as Tread (Bill) and Retread (Floyde).
Each Friday at 4 p.m., Tread and Retread take questions on a local AM station about anything that has to do with cars.
"We wanted to be the experts and have people call us," Mr. Adams said about why they launched the show. The idea is that if they can draw a customer into the store at least once, "we can keep them."
This same philosophy applies to their Internet efforts, as well.
"We're advertising, but not in the traditional sense," Mr. Adams said of the dealership's Web site. "The idea is to put information in their (the customers') hands and, ultimately, we hope that will be a more effective advertising vehicle to sell products."
Using the Web to reach customers is much less expensive than employing traditional ways of communicating, he said. The dealership used to send letters to customers to stay in touch. "The postage costs were enormous," he said.
Now, with the ease and efficiency of the Web, it can be done with a few keystrokes. "It's a cheap way of keeping the lines of communication open," he said.
The announcement of the Firestone tire recall Aug. 9 illustrates how far the Adamses will go to communicate with their customers.
After conducting a search of its database, the dealership called every customer who had ever bought one of the recalled tires from it. "We wanted to let them know what was happening and what their options were," Mr. Adams said.
But the phone calls also served another purpose. The Adamses had sold tires that were recalled and they didn't want these customers thinking the dealership "didn't care about (them)," he said.
In establishing the Web site in 1997, Mr. Adams said he "didn't have a clue" about what he wanted from it other than "a picture of the place and an address."
Nor did he know the power of the Web. But he does now. "I'd rank our Web site as one of the most important facets of our business," he said.
He bases this on the opinions of customers who tell him they look at the site, on the number of downloaded coupons for discounts on services he sees returned and on the subjective feel of how the company's Web advertising is working.
While the Web plays a prominent role in the operations of Adams ACCC, Mr. Adams doesn't foresee the decline of the local tire dealership.
Even though he is peddling some tires over the Web, he believes most people will not use the Internet to buy them. "I still feel the storefront, with people feeling the tires, is how we're going to sell tires," he said.
With that in mind, Mr. Adams has begun developing a new Web effort to drive not only more people into his own store but to do so for tire dealers nationally.
Using the resources of two software companies he and his father own called Computer Guys and AmeriSoft Corp., Mr. Adams has introduced a startup site called Tires-US.com, whose "main objective is to take customers off the Net and bring them into a local tire dealership. We'll do this, we hope, by getting a good nationwide TOMA (top of mind awareness) for anything that has to do with tires."
He has registered the tires-us.com domain name and similar versions for all 50 states and hopes to sell the service to tire dealers nationwide. The idea is that when a customer types in the word "tires" on the Internet, tires-us.com or the state site will pop up. Viewers will then click through to find someone in their neighborhood to supply tires or information they can't get over the World Wide Web.
Mr. Adams said he plans to introduce the concept to American Car Care Centers first and, if the group is interested, have them test-market it.
Tire dealers would be charged a nominal fee, $10 to $15 a month, for the listing service.
Dealers using tires-us.com also will need to follow a business code of ethics the company has written and posted on the site.
"We want only the best of the best (dealers) out there and to drive people into their door," Mr. Adams said.