They may never be confused with some of the entertainment world's greatest pairings of all time-Hope and Crosby, Abbott and Costello, Bob and Ray...even Siegfried and Roy-but the Barb and Bob routine is creating some of the right kind of ripples in its own right.
The owners of Briggs and Sons Tire in Fayetteville may have stumbled upon the right mix of cutesy and folksy and discovered that it sells when it comes to helping pull in new customers. Through a series of local radio ads launched about six months ago, the dealership's founders, Barbara Briggs, president, and her husband Robert, vice president, are finding that working together-on and off the air-beats the heck out of canned commercials.
``We're personalizing it,'' Ms. Briggs told Tire Business, sounding somewhat amused that the ads are getting as much airwave mileage for the dealership as a set of 80,000-mile radials. ``We've gotten a lot of recognition. I think that's the beginning of how you get customers-they feel they know who you are, and they're willing to trust themselves to us because they feel they really know us.
``Everywhere we go, people tell us how good the ads are and how much they like them.''
For the company's upcoming 31st anniversary celebration in December, the couple recorded an ad in which, Ms. Briggs recounted, ``I say, `Bob, you forgot our anniversary,' and he says, `Whaa? I didn't.' And I say, `No, not that anniversary. Our store anniversary.' ''
Most of the ads feature a little back-and-forth banter. Mostly, though, they highlight the fact Briggs and Sons Tire is family owned, while beckoning, ``Come into our stores.''
Simple messages, but apparently effective.
The company, which operates strictly in North Carolina, has 10 outlets, including two retail/commercial stores. Five are in Fayetteville, one in Clinton, one in Jacksonville and three in the Raleigh metro area-the latter added this past March when the dealership purchased them from the Buffalo Tire retail unit of Jacksonville, N.C.-based wholesaler Target Tire.
All told, retail accounted for 55 percent of Briggs' total corporate sales of $12.4 million in 2002; commercial and retreading comprised 35 percent; wholesale pulled in 5 percent. The company is forecasting 2003 sales to hit $15 million.
The Raleigh market was about the only metro area close enough to Fayetteville that the company felt it could keep close tabs on. ``We weren't really looking for something in Timbuktu,'' Ms. Briggs said.
Retail expansion will come at an as-needed pace, she added. About four years ago the Briggses bought two Goodyear-owned Kelly-Springfield tire stores in Fayetteville, replacing one of them with a newly built outlet.
For now, Briggs and Sons is settling into the new Raleigh outlets to ``get them where we want them to be,'' she said. Two are doing well, one has struggled. But ``we're very optimistic about where we're going with all of them.''
Like longtime Goodyear dealer Briggs' other outlets, those in Raleigh will peddle Goodyear, Kelly and Dunlop tires, as well as the Michelins the company added a year ago. For its retail operation, tires and wheels account for 45 percent of revenues, with automotive service at 55 percent. But tire sales in general have been down, Ms. Briggs said.
And taking over the two former Goodyear/Kelly stores proved a bit thorny for the dealership.
``We're in a Kelly town,'' she said, ``and I think the Kelly plant employees have a feeling that when we took over the stores, they lost some of their benefits, like payroll deduction and discounts.''
Like in old-time ``company towns,'' the Kelly plant workers patronized their tire stores and received what she called ``deep discounts (for tires).''
When Goodyear began revamping its Kelly dealer program a few years back, it closed the Kelly-Springfield Tire Co. headquarters in Cumberland, Md., and moved the operation back to Akron. After the tire maker sold its Kelly stores in Fayetteville to the Briggs, ``a lot of (the plant workers') benefits went away,'' Ms. Briggs said, noting that while Goodyear owned them, employees could purchase tires from the stores and pay for them through payroll deductions.
After Goodyear eliminated that perk, some workers tended to blame the Briggs. ``They don't realize we didn't do that to them-Goodyear did it,'' she added. ``But we're the people on the front line, so we're struggling some with our Kelly tire sales.
``They're not too happy with Goodyear, and we represent Goodyear to them. But we're doing OK with it.''
Sadly, Ms. Briggs said, the old Kelly dealer family camaraderie that used to exist ``is eroding away.... I think some of the pride is gone-that we were all a happy Kelly family.''
That's partly the reason the Briggses took on the Michelin brand. ``We're also talking with Bridgestone/Firestone,'' she said. ``We're not handling (BFS) brands yet, but I think that will come eventually, so the tire world is changing.''
In the competitive Fayetteville market, adding BFS brands could help Briggs' battle against the likes of a couple Firestone company-owned stores, Sears, Roebuck and Co. auto centers, and the ever-present Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which operates five ``super centers'' there.
``I think they hurt us,'' Ms. Briggs said, though she quickly noted that, in Clinton, the Briggs store is right across the street from a Wal-Mart. The dealership's store manager ``thinks it's the best thing that's ever happened to him. We get a lot of Wal-Mart customers. But maybe we shouldn't say that because then they may clean up their act,'' she joked.
However, the harsh reality for an independent dealership is having mass merchandisers in your backyard selling the same brands. ``For every Sears or Kmart that sells four Goodyear tires each, that's 12 tires we potentially could have sold,'' Ms. Briggs said. ``So multiply that by 360 days a year, and it does make a difference.''