Tires Unlimited Inc. has been making steady Web-based sales gains nationally by marketing the dealership's actual bricks-and-mortar location online, although smaller dealers hoping to break into that territory may find the going long and tough, the company warned.
General Manager Bill Pfeiffer hopes to make Internet sales of specialty tires to end users a full third of the Dayton-based company's business, which includes a retail location serving parts of Ohio and Indiana as well as a national wholesale operation. Tires Unlimited sells about 20 brands of specialty tires and also handles passenger and light truck tires among others in its retail and wholesale segments.
``Just like anything, you start out with a crawl,'' Mr. Pfeiffer said of Web sales. ``It was a niche and it grew quickly.''
To generate sales online, Tires Unlimited markets the presence of its ``brick and mortar'' store in Dayton. A section on the Web site contains photos of the store as well as a description that emphasizes the company's establishment in 1976 and its stock of some 50,000 tires.
``You can put up a Web site, and you don't have to have a brick and mortar store,'' he said. ``You can do it out of your garage if you wanted.'' But Mr. Pfeiffer plays up the point that Tires Unlimited is ``really a business and not just an Internet front....I think that lends itself to people having confidence in you then.''
To attract customers to the site in the first place, Mr. Pfeiffer said the company takes pains to pop up in major search engines.
Tires Unlimited's Web site, though designed for end users, has been a work in progress for nearly five years, Mr. Pfeiffer said. Companywide, the dealership is on track to sell about 161,000 tires this year, he said. But while Tires Unlimited's Internet sales of specialty tires are growing, Mr. Pfeiffer said independent dealers considering taking a crack at Web-based sales may find it hard to break into the intense national competition.
``It's taken us years,'' he said. ``We didn't just jump in five years ago.''
On the other hand, whether via the Internet or in their stores, he said many smaller dealerships can benefit from adding specialty tires to their offerings for local-instead of national-reach. Tires Unlimited recently has been recruiting more dealers into its wholesale program and is set to release its most comprehensive catalog yet after the holidays.
Mr. Pfeiffer said many small dealerships shy away from specialty tires because of the difficulties involved with offering motorcycle, ATV or lawn and garden tires.
He said the complexity of specialty tire offerings make it important for small dealers to be linked to a larger distributor.
``If somebody's going to try to hook up to a manufacturer, that's going to limit the product they have, but a distributor like us, we have just about everything,'' he said.
In addition, specialty tires require extensive knowledge separate from passenger treads. For example, he said, dealers must become familiar with the different tread patterns of these tires and the duties they're designed for, as well as completely different size measurements. For this reason, Tires Unlimited bills itself as the knowledge source for dealers who may want to make some extra sales.
``They can supplement their business by selling some specialty tires and actually make good margins on them,'' he said. ``...There's no reason to pass up any tire sale.''