VANCOUVER, British Columbia—James Garner or Jim Shatner may not be hawking its tires, but 1010Tires.com is banking on giving the big wheels—in online tire stores, at least—a run for their money.
Launched this summer, the site features a dozen tire brands, including Michelin, Toyo, Goodyear, Pirelli and Yokohama, and 19 brands of wheels such as Volk Racing, BBS, Oz, Momo and ASA. Like Tire Rack, 1010Tires lets visitors see what a given set of wheels will look like on their vehicle by clicking the desired wheel and size. (Where no photo is yet available—and there are several gaps—a silhouette is used.) Users can search for wheels and tires by brand, performance type.
The site's "dark, ominous" look is geared toward the performance enthusiast, who is typically a male between 16 and 27, according to 1010Tire's founder, Sofia Volpov.
"The whole premise is high performance," Ms. Volpov said. "This site takes the guesswork out of the process for any lay person, who typically says: `I want plus 1, plus 2, plus 3. I want to see how it looks on my car. And I also want to know if it will fit on my car.'"
She should know. Ms. Volpov and her husband, Roman, have been in the tire business since 1982. The couple built a used-tire business into Volco Tires & Wheels, which has four stores in the Vancouver that each pull in an average of 30 to 40 cars a day.
Today, about half their customers want a high-performance tire or tire/wheel package. Ms. Volpov said their reputation as the area's "absolute authority" in performance is going into the Web site, which she sees as a vehicle to extend beyond Vancouver and Canada's borders.
"We get a lot of BMWs and Mercedes as well as Civics and Integras," confirmed Darrell Shore, manager of the Volco store in Richmond.
"We identify what kind of style wheel he likes and what he's looking for. Some people just want to make the car look a little nicer—they're not as interested in performance. For them, we don't do too crazy of a change. We won't, for instance, go from 15- to 17-inch tires and wheels.
"But we go from 14 to 17 all the time, like with Honda Civics, which come from the factory with 14 inch wheels. It depends on the customer."
The shopper who deals with 1010Tires will benefit from expertise that's not necessarily universal, even in brick and mortar tire stores, Mr. Shore pointed out. "The main thing we find is that some of the little import stores don't understand the correct hardware to use, including the correct wheel nuts and hub rings," he said. "We have a lot of people come in with problems with vibrations or pulling to the side.
"Ninety-five percent of the time we're able to solve the problem. Hopefully they'll come back and buy tires from us next time."
The Web site is driven by the passion and vision of Ms. Volpov, who has invested $100,000 of her own money to create a "living, breathing" site that enables enthusiasts to search and study whenever they need to buy tires.
"The information we provide on the site will eventually lead to sales, but we're taking the first step, which is to provide viable information so they can make an intelligent choice in buying tires," she said.
"It's not just to push and sell tires but to create a brand and a loyal following. They will have a place to do research. Buying a tire is like going to the dentist. You know you have to go there, and you know you have to part with the money, but boy, is it painful!"
1010Tires' Web site will streamline the process and provide the customer with the option of having the tires mounted by a nearby installer, Ms. Volpov said.
"The consumer will ultimately decide who he is going to trust."
1010Tires is planning to hire two people to handle marketing, create a chain of installers in Canada and the U.S., answer the site's e-mail, toll-free calls and manage appropriate traffic that appears on the Internet's enthusiast forums, as well as the site's own upcoming communities.
"You have to make sure the product is packaged correctly, inspected correctly," Ms. Volpov said. "Mistakes can be very costly."
Andrew Tilston, president of reactor8 Communications, the firm that produced the 1010Tires site, said a key objective was to set up a database that was driven by formulas. Counting the different models, there are 9,000 vehicles in 1010's database.
"Up front, there was some doubt that we could do it," Mr. Tilston recalled. "One of the Michelin guys didn't think you could do it mathematically. Some of their competitors told us, `You just don't have equations that work.' We started to work on the fitment rules and finally, after many nights, came up with an equation."
The proprietary coding allows 1010Tires to guarantee that tires and wheels will work on unmodified vehicles.
They were also careful to design in a feature that lets consumers buy related accessories that work correctly with their wheels, such as locking lug nuts, hub-concentric rings and wheel-cleaning kits.
Reactor8 also has helped with initial marketing, public relations and relationship-building among key enthusiast communities such as Volkswagen, Honda, Acura, Audi, Mercedes Benz and BMW. If all goes smoothly, 1010Tires will eventually have its own forums, where end-users can share their reactions and review others' rankings.
At an Oct. 26 eWorld conference in Vancouver, Reactor8 was recognized for its work on 1010tires.com. It received two awards, including one for "Best new entry onto the Internet by a bricks-and-mortar company."
1010Tires has chalked up some nice reviews of its own. Jay Conrad Levinson, the Northern California-based author of the Guerrilla Marketing books, regularly critiques content for OnVia, a business Web site. Here's what he said:
"1010tires.com impressed me the moment I clicked over to it, then proceeded to blow me away with the comprehensiveness of its copy and selection, the simplicity of its ordering and its overall professionalism."
"...The more I saw of this site, the more I appreciated all that it had to offer—everything, it seems, except for a chance for me to kick the tires."
Little did the motivation author realize that the driving force behind 1010Tires is a self-described "middle-aged" woman who got into computers just a few years ago, thanks to her young son.
Now, the entrepreneur conceded, she's "hooked" on computing, "couldn't imagine" life without her trusty laptop and, when initially contacted for this article, was on her way to an e-commerce seminar. "I have a dream," Ms. Volpov said.