Editor's note: A number of independent tire dealerships have taken advantage of Tire Business' long-standing practice of providing free hot links to their Web sites on this publication's home page (www.tirebusiness.com).
TB editors contacted several of the dealerships on that list and asked how they are using their Web sites to increase sales and raise the public visibility of their businesses. The following are some highlights of those interviews:
Direct Tire & Auto Service, Watertown, Mass., (www.directtire.com) is apparently one of the relatively few dealerships actually contracting sales over the Internet.
Direct Tire President Barry Steinberg said the dealership's 4-year-old Net site probably generates an average of eight sales per day, divvied up among the dealership's four retail locations.
Although the firm's site had attracted as many as 10,000 hits (visits) per month, "hits don't ring the register in a click-and-mortar type of business," Mr. Steinberg said.
What Direct Tire has found that does ring the register, he said, is the site's capability of allowing visitors to make appointments or e-mail the staff for more information.
"When they e-mail us for information," Mr. Steinberg said, "we can have personal contact with them. It's allowing us to take the impersonal Internet and make it a little more personal. I think e-mail is working the best for us.
"We try to answer their questions, give them a price quote if they want it, offer them an opportunity to come in and maybe see a set of tires and wheels, or have us look at their car's shocks, and so forth."
The dealership averages about 25 e-mail exchanges per day, he said.
One unusual feature of the site is the "Direct Tire Driving School" in which visitors are invited to turn the ignition key (click on an ignition key icon) for information on subjects such as wheel alignment, plus tire sizing, sidewall markings and speed ratings.
The Internet is informational by nature, Mr. Steinberg said. "Not everybody is interested (in such technical data). But if people see it and say, `Oh yeah, that was great information,' hopefully, the next time they're thinking automotive, they'll think of us."
Direct Tire's site is being "tweaked" and changed almost daily, he said. Currently, Mr. Steinberg wants to make it more interactive and possibly allow the user to view how different tire and wheel offerings might look on his or her vehicle.
Maynard and Lesieur Inc., Nashua, N.H., (www.tiresupermarket.com) also conducts contractual sales over the Internet—and makes a profit doing it. However, Operations Manager Larry Lesieur admitted the site's profitability has more to do with its cost—virtually nothing to date—than anything else.
The dealership's 3-year-old Web site was designed in-house by a former employee, eliminating the need for additional out-of-pocket expenditures.
Because that same individual had referred so much after-hours business to a local Internet Service Provider (ISP), that company gave Maynard and Lesieur a complimentary account and has continued to do so ever since.
Operating a no-cost Web site using a no-cost Internet service provider, Maynard and Lesieur is one of a few companies able to say its site has made money from day one. "We should be worth billions because we're one of the few Internet companies making money. But I haven't been able to convince investors of that," Mr. Lesieur joked.
The firm likes to keep its site simple. Sites containing a lot of graphic elements often take too long to launch, causing some visitors to lose patience and turn elsewhere, he said.
Maynard and Lesieur's site is designed to serve its particular market niche—supplying small quantities of hard-to-find tire types and sizes. "We don't get rich on it. We probably sell six to 12 tires a week over the Internet," he said.
"What we sell a lot of are tires for boat trailers, motorcycles and ATVs. We're not trying to compete with The Tire Rack or anything, and we don't give it away. We make our gross," he said.
Because it caters to those looking for hard-to-locate tires, the dealership doesn't have to compete on the basis of price, he said. Most other potential tire buyers surfing the Web are interested in only one thing: price.
Although he's enthusiastic about his Internet presence, Mr. Lesieur said he doesn't think having a Web site is a necessity for every dealership since dealers offer value-added services such as mounting and balancing, in addition to the products they sell.
"So it's not like selling toys on the Internet," he said.
Auto Tire Car Care Centers in Indianapolis, Ind., (www.autotirecarcare.com), pays about $50 per month to maintain its site, for which the dealership is allowed five changes per month, said Kevin L. Vaught, founder and president of the family-owned dealership.
Usually, such changes involve the virtual coupons that visitors to the site can print and redeem for discounts on Michelin or BFGoodrich tires or automotive services such as brake or oil and lube work.
The dealership's four outlets redeem an average of about 20 coupons a month, a number which Mr. Vaught would like to see increase.
The dealership, which also employs Mr. Vaught's sons, Derick, 25, and Brent, 22, has operated its Web site for about four years. Most people visit the site to learn the location of the nearest Auto Tire outlet, he said.
STS Tire & Auto Centers (operated by Somerset Tire Service Inc.) of Bound Brook, N.J., (www.ststire.com) has found its Web site useful in locating potential employees, said Debbie Wright, marketing coordinator.
On its site, expansion-minded STS—which has 73 locations in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania—touts the benefits of its 100-percent employee ownership to job seekers and service-minded customers alike. Those interested in working for STS make their presence known via a special page on the site devoted to that purpose.
"We've had quite a few inquiries," Ms. Wright said, estimating that at least 50 people have registered their names and addresses and indicated the position in which they're interested. "I don't know how many we ended up hiring, but we have seen an increasing number of people making use of the site for that purpose," she said.
Updating and redesigning the Web site was one of the first projects tackled by Ms. Wright after joining the STS headquarters staff two years ago.
"We worked closely with our advertising agency to incorporate the company logo into the site and maintain consistency with all our advertising," she said.
STS currently is considering making the site more interactive by allowing a visitor to enter a postal zip code to obtain the location of the nearest STS outlet.
"Right now," she said, "the Web site is serving more of an informational purpose than anything else. We would like people to visit our site to learn more about the company and use that (interest) as a means of enticing them to one of our stores, either to buy tires or have their vehicles serviced."
The site's home page depicts an STS outlet with several bays. The door of each can be opened, with a mouse click, to reveal information about the company, its philosophy and its products and services.
To increase the site's visibility, STS includes its Web address on virtually every type of correspondence, including invoices, business cards, direct mail pieces and newspaper ads, Ms. Wright said.
Maintaining the site runs about $200 a month, a relatively inexpensive amount when compared to other types of advertising, she pointed out.
Post Script: Other independent tire dealers and retreaders wishing to add their Web sites to TB's "hot-links" directory may do so by e-mail. Include your dealership's proper name (eg. Joe's Tire Service Inc.) and its Internet address, such as www.joestire.com and send via e-mail to [email protected]