DES MOINES, Iowa—When some guy in a slick suit buttonholes you and mumbles that "advertising pays dividends," before you roll your eyes, realize there's still a lot of life left in that old platitude.
Of course, being able to take advantage of constantly evolving technology doesn't hurt.
For seven years, a Des Moines firm called Direct Communications Inc. (DCI) has been helping product manufacturers and marketers make that ever-important link with potential customers. They're the ones who've seen an advertisement, like what they see, but aren't sure where they can get the product or service.
Through DCI's "DealerQuik" network—or, via the Internet, its "i-DealerQuik" service—the company claims it turns advertising "into the most effective way to drive consumer sales at your dealer and retail outlets." That happens through a designated toll-free phone number computer program that tells shoppers where they can buy a product.
Dealers and retailers can, in turn, easily measure the results through a component that tracks the effectiveness of the magazine or media that generates the phone call as well as the success of the message or offer presented in the advertisement.
Program participants receive their own DealerQuik toll-free phone number to use in company advertising. According to DCI:
The phone number delivers a company's customized, recorded message to the consumer, then either gives them the number of the closest dealer, or directly connects them to it. The consumer doesn't have to enter a zip code or area code.
The dealer, when answering the call, hears DCI's "VoiceAhead" announcement letting them know a customer is on the line inquiring about a product.
A shopper then is able to find out more about products, availability, cost and local store hours directly from store personnel.
By accessing i-DealerQuik at DCI's Web site, www.dealerquik.- com, customers can get the three-closest dealers to their location, or as many dealers as a manufacturer wishes to provide.
Mark Toebben, DCI president, told Tire Business the company currently has about 100 clients representing a number of industries such as the automotive aftermarket, which includes tire dealers, mobile electronics, outdoor sports, shooting sports, and consumer products.
"We really focus on manufacturers who produce a product and are looking to connect consumers who read their advertising with dealers who sell the product," he said.
"The whole concept," Mr. Toebben added, "is that there's only one location, one place where a consumer can find out whether or not a product is available and what the price is—and that's the local dealer.
"A manufacturer can tell them about the product and where to buy it, but they can't tell a customer about inventory, availability or cost. That's the dealer."
Just how DCI makes that "love" connection between marketer and customer is a study in technological wizardry. DCI's proprietary GeoData system automatically determines the longitude and latitude of the caller and matches it to the longitude and latitude of the closest dealer.
"It's kind of fun, high-tech stuff," Mr. Toebben said when asked how it all works. "That's one of those little trade secret things we can't divulge."
The company developed the technology so that when the phone call comes in, the consumer's location is captured then matched against a dealer database. While he would not say how large DCI's database is, Mr. Toebben noted that "there are more than 400,000 automotive-related businesses in the U.S. We've developed a database from that, and tire dealers are a subset of that."
A company signing up for the DealerQuik service is charged a basic setup fee of a little under $3,000, he said, and annual costs are then based on usage. So the more advertising a client does, the more calls the company is likely to receive.
And, he added, a company's cost "turns out to be a very, very small percentage of its advertising budget—and a great sales generator for the manufacturer and marketer."
Off-road and specialty tire marketer Max-Trac Tire Co. Inc., which does business from Stow, Ohio, as Mickey Thompson Performance Tires & Wheels (MT), has used DealerQuik since 1999. It's pleased with the results generated thus far, said Roger Simmons, regional marketing manager who handles advertising and promotion. But he admitted, "I don't think we've used it to its full potential yet."
One problem has been obtaining a broad enough dealer database from information provided by Mickey Thompson's warehouses. However, any fears of dealer names being shared with other marketers were calmed by DCI, which reassured MT that dealer lists are confidential and not sold to anyone, Mr. Simmons added.
Last year, MT purchased some assets and product lines of the bankrupt off-road tire marketer Dick Cepek Inc. In November, MT moved into a new office/warehouse complex in Temecula, Calif., which serves as the company's West Coast division and has opened new marketing areas for MT.
"I like DealerQuik because it's a good sales and reference tool," Mr. Simmons said.
DCI provides the company with a weekly report on calls, delineated by the day, time of day and location of caller. It also breaks down, in a monthly report, calls routed to MT based on the company's specific product categories of off-road/truck or performance tires.
"With that, we can see what category did best for a particular month and where we may want to improve our efforts," he said.
Another feature MT likes is a "dealers needed" report which specifies areas where a consumer couldn't find a dealer. "That allows us to go through and find the soft spots where we need more dealers," he said.
Although MT's Web site has a dealer locator, Mr. Simmons said it uses DCI's dealer database as a backup to provide additional locations for customers. A special PIN number links customers to DCI's Web site as well.