LINCOLN, Neb.-For Walker Tire & Auto Service, there's no business like show business. Except, of course, if it's the tire business.
It takes about four months to achieve 15 minutes of fame-one minute at a time-for the eight-store, two-family dealership, but the small screen has become a great marketing tool for the Lincoln and Omaha, Neb.-based company.
By day Andy Vuko is a mild-mannered daughter of a tire dealer and marketing director for Walker Tire. By night-well, by night once a week-she is Andy Vuko, co-host of Under the Hood, a one-minute auto repair advice television program that airs following a local news broadcast.
``It's been really popular,'' said Ms. Vuko, whose father Nick owns the Lincoln-based portion of Walker Tire. ``I can't believe how many people see it.''
It's popular, she says, because it's short and sweet. Rather than attempt a full-length program, which Ms. Vuko concedes may bore viewers to tears, the show is kept simple and fun.
Along with on-air partner Brad Burkland, whose father Fred owns the Omaha portion of the business, Ms. Vuko said the show sticks to basic automotive topics.
One week they might cover something like tire warranties and how to shop for them. The next week they may talk about why it's important to get an alignment checked. Or it might be a seasonal topic, such as when and if to buy snow tires. The pair has taped more than 50 spots, which rotate throughout the year.
Walker Tire hooked up with the television station-on which the dealership was already a paying sponsor-because Brad Burkland had a contact there, Ms. Vuko said.
She said the TV snippets have resulted in business, though she acknowledged there's no way to quantify how much. Many people come in to Walker Tire and mention the program.
``People I talk to say they laugh,'' she said. ``We have a lot of fun doing them.''
They're having a lot of fun these days at Walker Tire. The company celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, complete with a joint company party for the 80 or so employees at both the Lincoln- and Omaha-based companies. Company founder Vern Walker was among the attendees.
To celebrate with customers, the dealership offered a package deal of free oil changes with the purchase of a set of tires, good for the life of the tires. Ms. Vuko estimated the value of that package at up to $400.
That promotion, along with the TV tidbits, is just a part of what Ms. Vuko called a new focus on marketing. The dealership is spending a lot more time marketing to women and recently redesigned its showrooms with women in mind.
Ms. Vuko offered ``a woman's touch'' to the showrooms, which she said now have a ``warmer, more upscale feel.''
The Omaha and Lincoln dealerships are independent of each other, but honor each other's warranties and other service agreements. They also share purchasing and advertising costs, Ms. Vuko said.
The Lincoln-based portion of the company operates five retail stores and one truck center. The Omaha-based locations comprise three retail outlets and one truck center.
Hercules is Walker Tire's primary brand, but it also sells Toyo, Bridgestone and Nokian brand tires.
Walker Tire does some wholesale business, Ms. Vuko said, more in Omaha than in Lincoln. She estimates wholesaling comprises about 15 percent of the business.
She said that the firm features about a 50/50 split between tire sales and automotive service.
Besides Andy Vuko, her sister Jeanne and brother Nicholas also work for their father's company. After completing college, Nicholas will run the dealership's quick lube business, which is slated to open in the near future.
Nick Vuko has been with Walker Tire since the early 1970s and bought its part of the business from Vern Walker, who is the uncle of Nick Vuko's wife.