APTOS, Calif. (Sept. 26, 2001)—When injuries suffered in a traffic accident four years ago prevented him from continuing to work at his family's Santa Cruz, Calif., tire dealership, Larry Holser drew on his industry background and combined it with an interest in computers to forge a new Internet-based career for himself.
Today, Drive USA Network—the enterprise he founded—is home to the Web sites of 10 regional and state tire dealer associations. Through them, it also serves as a consumer directory to more than 2,000 tire dealerships in 14 states whose owners or managers belong to one of those groups.
Among the sites hosted by Drive USA are those of dealer associations in the Northwest, North Central and Mid-America regions, as well as the state dealer organizations of Georgia, Indiana, Arkansas, Iowa, North and South California and Washington.
Besides the industry sites it actually hosts, Mr. Holser's Drive USA Network also provides links to the Internet sites of more than 33 other automotive-oriented groups. They include the American Trucking Associations; Car Care Council; International Tire & Rubber Association; National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE); Rubber Manufacturers Association; Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA); Tire Association of North America (TANA); and the Tire Retread Information Bureau (TRIB).
Collectively, these sites have been drawing about 7,000 visitors each month, Mr. Holser said.
Anyone calling up one of these state or regional dealer association Web sites or the company's own DriveUSA.net site, also will find convenient links to non-industry sites offering help in such diverse subject areas as planning and mapping motor trips, making airline, rental car and other reservations, checking weather forecasts and gaining online access to as many as 50 national publications, as well as many local newspapers.
The purpose of offering such wide-ranging features, Mr. Holser said, is to encourage visitors to return to the site again and again—hopefully establishing a pattern visitors will follow when looking for tires and automotive services.
It was four years ago that Mr. Holser was heading home with his family over California's Highway One following a Mother's Day dinner. Suddenly, a van proceeding directly in front of their car spun out of control and into the path of the family's vehicle. Mr. Holser's son, Mike, who was at the wheel, swerved to avoid a head-on collision. Instead, the family's vehicle struck the van sideways before careening into a guard rail.
The accident left Mr. Holser unable to perform the more physically demanding side of his job at Holser Tire Service—the Santa Cruz dealership his father, Carl Holser, founded in 1951 and where Larry's brothers, Steve and Doug Holser, still are employed.
“I wasn't able to sling tires around any more,” Larry Holser said. “My back was too bad. So I thought I'd better put to use what I knew about the industry and what I knew about computers. That's how we got it (Drive USA) going.”
Despite the seemingly elaborate features of the Web sites the company helped create and now hosts, Mr. Holser sees one of the company's missions as providing tire associations and dealers with an affordable means of entering into the world of Internet-based commerce. Later, if these site owners desire, they can add more advanced features, such as online appointment scheduling, at additional cost.
“I really believe strongly in the value of associations, particularly for smaller tire dealerships,” Mr. Holser told Tire Business. It's a statement he backs up by offering smaller, less-affluent tire and automotive service organizations a bare-bones site free of charge. Then, for a modest fee of $15 per month, such associations can purchase a more elaborate site on which all their members' dealerships are listed on a city-by-city basis. This makes it possible for consumers to locate such dealerships on the list simply by using the site's “Find Car Care” button.
Getting their dealership listed for free on the association's Web site offers an added incentive for dealers to join, Mr. Holser pointed out. Meanwhile, as a similar incentive for associations to participate, Drive USA pays such groups $60 per year for each member doing business with the company.
Mr. Holser offered this advice to tire dealers: “If you have a Web site, advertise it everywhere. Include it in your Yellow Pages, print and other types of advertising, on your business cards, invoices—everything.”
He said dealers also are wise to avoid unnecessarily elaborate features that cause their site to take too much of the visitor's time when loading. “One of the mistakes people make is having too much fancy stuff,” he said.
“You want to have your site looking nice. But if it takes too long to load, people will lose interest and go elsewhere.”