What do you get when you mix a six-foot rooster, a Phillip the Tire mascot, a pickup truck, two 15-foot inflatable tires, various information booths and nearly 75 people wandering around?
For Gross Tire Center Inc. in Williamsport, it all added up to a congested-yet successful-National Tire Safety Week, the first for the single-outlet dealership. ``A lot of new faces came through,'' owner Kerry Gross said.
The national safety week, organized by the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA), ran from April 25-May 1. An RMA spokesman said the week-the third ever-was ``huge'' compared with its predecessors. RMA materials were distributed at nearly 9,000 stores, and dealer participation was up substantially, he said. Dealer participation ranged from passing out materials to hosting tire care clinics, checking motorists' tire pressure and advertising. A CNN Newsource story featuring the RMA aired nearly 300 times on local television stations, the spokesman said.
``Many (dealers) said that National Tire Safety Week was an opportunity to build customer loyalty, enhance community relations and generate sales,'' he wrote to Tire Business.
Mr. Gross, who decided to participate this year after he was inspired by Tire Business stories about the efforts of Iowa dealer Tim Reece, said the ideas-and stuff-started pouring in as his May 1 event drew near. Gross Tire held an inspection lane event at its store for one day only.
Mr. Gross already had bought a live broadcast package from the local radio station, which brought along a 2004 pickup truck it will give away this summer, a booth and its rooster mascot. RMA representatives also attended, bringing a booth of their own and the group's mascot. A tire supplier brought the massive tire inflatables. A local motorcycle club even brought a Harley-Davidson they were raffling off.
``By the day it rolled around, it was more or less a zoo,'' Mr. Gross told Tire Business. ``...If it wasn't so congested with tires and roosters, we would've had more cars.''
Still, about 50 cars went through the inspection lanes in five hours. All of the activities were in the shop's parking lot, with the inspection lanes running right in front of the shop's doors so motorists could hop in for a quick price quote if they were told they needed new tires during the inspection.
Mr. Gross plans to hold the event again next year, although he'll either have to limit what shows up or redirect traffic into the lanes. He also wants to offer hot dogs.
The event cost Mr. Gross at least $2,000, but it also brought in more sales. He had given away coupon sheets in goodie bags along with tire safety brochures, tire gauges and key chains. The week after the event his sales shot up from a usual 120-180 tires per week to about 229. Some of the coupons, which expire at the end of June, still are trickling in, he said.
But that's not Mr. Gross' only measure of success.
``I really wasn't looking at dollars,'' he said. ``I was just doing it for the exposure.''
During the event the radio station gave away a prize package that included a certificate for a free set of tires from Gross Tire. The certificate was limited to a maximum of $450. Mr. Gross said he was privately rooting for the owner of a Ford Festiva with a few 12-inchers.
``Fortunately (the winner) had a Ford Escort so we got off pretty lucky there,'' he said, adding her old tires weren't too bad off, so he got a free set of used tires.
``She's going to think I'm a swell guy,'' he said of the winner.
Mr. Reece, owner of R&W Tire & Turf in Boone, Iowa, said his second year participating in National Tire Safety Week was hampered by factors out of his control. He again set up inspection lanes, but rain kept a lot of people home. Also, local union members who are in contract talks with Bridgestone/Firestone-which has distribution centers nearby plus is R&W's main supplier-had informational pickets outside R&W Tire.
``I don't think many people turned away because of it,'' Mr. Reece said of the pickets.
Only about 77 cars came through in five hours, compared with his tally last year of about 125.
Although he plans to host the event again next year, he's not sure what changes he'll make. A major change for this year was holding the event at his shop instead of a pharmacy parking lot along the city's main street. Mr. Reece said the change was to make sure customers would distinguish him from his two main competitors, all three of which are usually confused with each other.
He also wanted to see if his advertising was effective or if the large turnout last year was from many people stopping as they drove by. Mr. Reece had estimated that he would lose about 25 people moving from the high-traffic area. ``But that's a guess,'' he said.
Still, he said many people from last year's event came back for the second.
``Of course what we're trying to get is not regular customers, and we did get some of those,'' Mr. Reece said.