AKRON (Jan. 2, 2001)—Eight years ago when Bill Clinton was first running for president his campaign workers in Arkansas posted a banner in their election war room stating: "It´s the economy, stupid!´´
They wanted to keep Mr. Clinton´s campaign focused on the issue of top importance in the average American´s mind.
For independent tire dealers a similar slogan likely would read: "It´s the service you offer that makes the difference, not low price." Most dealers know this, of course. But offering exemplary service is something dealers must work hard to achieve every day.
The recent J.D. Power and Associates evaluation of tire retailing shows just how important customer service is to today´s tire buyers.
J.D. Power found consumers rated locally owned and operated independent tire dealerships above all other retail channels of distribution. The research company noted, however, that it placed greater emphasis this year on personnel and service.
The findings show that expert service and a do-whatever-it-takes attitude are what set independents apart from their larger retail tire competitors.
This is not to say dealers don´t need to offer relatively low prices. They do, the survey suggested. But dealers don´t have to offer the lowest prices in the area to earn a customer´s business.
"Tire retailers won´t win over many customers on price alone, because virtually all tire buyers expect a competitive price," J.D. Power´s Jeff Zupancic noted. "The battle for consumers´ business will be fought and won on the people and service front."
For tire dealers, such findings should validate their approach to business. While the retail outlets operated by mass merchandisers, warehouse clubs and tire discounters might be able to offer tires at slightly lower prices, they can´t compete with independent tire dealers in terms of knowledge and service.
Dealers must use these findings to their advantage and hone their employees´ skills.
It´s the service dealers offer that counts most, not having the lowest price.
Positive signs in year ahead
We enter 2001 amid many uncertainties: a new president, a reeling stock market, lower corporate earnings, increased layoffs, fluctuating raw material prices and questions involving tire safety.
But before writing off 2001, it´s worth remembering that the U.S. has just completed its fifth consecutive year of record tire shipments. And this year, shipments are expected to decline by only 1 percent.
Consumers also have a new awareness of tires and the need to maintain them, which could drive more business into dealers´ bays.
The forecast for new car sales in 2001 calls for the third highest total ever. Yes, there´s uncertainty, but lots of positive omens as well.
Here´s wishing the positive ones come true.