PHOENIX-You can book a flight, a hotel room, a church for your wedding and make a doctor's appointment at the quick click of a mouse -all while scheduling a time to have your tires mounted and balanced.
Thanks to an innovative Internet service, tire dealerships and auto service shops-and many other service providers-can keep from having cluttered appointment books and waiting rooms.
AppointmentZone (www.appointmentzone.com) is an Internet-based service developed by former Yokohama Tire Corp. President and COO Dan Ogden. His hope is to streamline the appointment setting process for tire dealers as well as anyone else whose business depends on filling datebooks.
The company is the brainchild of Jeff Schadt, who when his daughter was ill, had difficulty scheduling a visit to the doctor. With a background in time management, he came up with the idea of a service that would enable appointments to be set 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
``A lot of dealers are dealing with things on a walk-in basis,'' Mr. Schadt said. ``There are periods when they get slammed coming in the door. This (service) enables you to spread business out. (Customers) know they can come in and be served right away.''
Dealers become affiliated with AppointmentZone by paying a subscriber fee. Mr. Ogden said monthly fees range from $20 to $100 per location, depending on the size of the store or the number of outlets-the more locations, the lower the fees. There also are minimal set-up costs. Otherwise, those are the only costs associated with the site. Once online, Mr. Ogden said, subscribers will even be given banner ads.
``We're trying to keep it as cheap as putting in a phone line, because this is basically another phone line into a dealership,'' he said.
But this line needs nobody to answer it, is available to customers at all hours and the advertising is free. Using AppointmentZone is akin to going through the Yellow Pages, with the difference being dealers don't have to pay for the space. ``That's the true value of it,'' Mr. Schadt said. Potential appointment-setting customers must first register, using a login name and password, to use the Web site, then have access to all its options.
Besides finding a service provider and choosing an available time slot that fits their schedule, customers also can enter diagnostic information for their vehicle to specify what service will be needed.
For dealers without Internet connections, Mr. Schadt said the site has an automatic fax notification to inform them of appointments.
AppointmentZone recently signed up Arizona-based Discount Tire Co., one of the country's largest independent tire dealership with 450 locations in 18 states.
``Discount Tire is our flagship,'' Mr. Schadt said, noting that this is the first time in that company's history that it has taken appointments. Prior to signing with Appointment Zone, Discount Tire took only walk-in business.
The AppointmentZone site almost didn't get off the ground-nearly falling victim to the ``dot-bomb'' massacres of 2000. Mr. Ogden said he lost what he termed a ``multi-million-dollar round of financing'' in April 2000. But he persevered. The site was beta tested last October to ensure most of the kinks were worked out. Discount Tire was signed in December and went live in February.
``It's a brand-new product and it took about a year and three quarters to develop,'' Mr. Ogden said.
In the first six months of operation the site took more than 1.2 million ``hits.'' He estimated that within five years 50 percent of all businesses will use Internet scheduling.