Is your dealership ``consumer-centric?''
Maybe you don't know, considering this is a relatively new buzzword.
But to Len Lewin, the head of North America's largest tire dealer marketing group, being consumer-centric is a key for independent tire dealers who want to survive and thrive in the future.
Consumer-centric is a term people soon will be hearing a lot about, Mr. Lewin said in a speech to about 300 American Car Care Centers Inc. dealers attending an incentive cruise to the Caribbean in late January.
It means putting the customer at the center of your business plan so that everything you do in your dealership is based on what the consumer thinks.
This has become especially important over the past 16 months following the recalls and replacement programs for Firestone-brand tires, Mr. Lewin said.
Consumers have changed, and their expectations have changed as a result of these ``watershed events,'' he explained.
``Since the recall, service is very much at the top of mind with the consumer,'' said Mr. Lewin, ACCC's president and chief operating officer. ``It's more important than price and even more important than product.''
He cited a survey conducted recently regarding purchasing trends and why consumers buy from certain retailers.
The survey, according to Mr. Lewin, found that warranties and having a retailer that would stand behind the product were extremely important reasons why consumers buy from certain retailers. It also found that consumers want to buy from a quality location offering the proper product selection. In addition, today's tire buyers wanted an outlet that had knowledgeable employees.
These consumers, the survey found, relied on satisfactory past experiences when deciding whether to return to a certain retailer. And they were more comfortable at locations where they felt they had been treated well the first time. Finally, they wanted to be sure the dealership they patronized sold quality brand tires.
``So what does all this mean?'' Mr. Lewin asked. ``It means the consumer wants trust. He wants trust in whom he's dealing with,'' he said. And this ``is all about customer satisfaction.'' This change in consumer expectations brings opportunities. Go after them, he told dealers, and be committed.
Ten to 15 years ago, tires were purchased very differently, he said. Back then, for example, a consumer would visit five or six retail tire stores before making a purchase. Today the customer goes to only one.
But that average tire customer-based on his life expectancy and where the market is going-is estimated to be worth $37,251 to your business, he said. ``You need to make sure he's coming into your store.''
Mr. Lewin encouraged dealers to define their dealership's position in the marketplace. For example, do they want their dealership to be known as the low-cost provider in the market, the tire expert or the consumer-friendly dealership that can be trusted?
``I'm convinced very few (dealers) do know their market position,'' he said. ``They don't focus on anything in particular.''
To help dealers characterize their business' market position, he suggested they ask themselves a number of questions, such as: ``Where is our business position today and how do we communicate that position?'' ``How are we measuring up and how are we doing in the marketplace? ``How are we doing with the customer base?'' ``Who is my real competition and how do I defend myself against that competition?'' ``What does my business stand for in the eyes of my customers?'' ``What should it stand for?''
The point is, you have to differentiate your dealership, he said. How is it different from the nine or 10 competitive tire retailers in your market? ``You've got to focus in and be recognized for something that makes you different than your competitors.''
Once you define your position in the market, you've got to be able to communicate that to the consumer, he said. This can be done in different ways-through advertising and actions.
But most importantly, ``your entire company should be talking the same way indicating your position,'' he said.
Mr. Lewin encouraged dealers to set new standards for their operations and be at the forefront in their local marketplace.
``If you're not out in the forefront, you're just in the pack, and the pack is average,'' he said.
To be a winner, ``we've got to be better prepared than the competition. That's the price of entry to be on the leading edge.''