Tire dealers who want to thrive-not just survive-should quit focusing so much on tires and start paying attention to women.
It's a tough assignment, but Chris ``Chubby'' Frederick claims taking his advice can pump up service sales by 20 percent or more in today's dog-eat-dog world of tire retailing.
Mr. Frederick, the president of Automotive Training Institute (ATI) (see sidebar, page 13), claims many shops are missing out on millions of dollars in scheduled auto maintenance. The veteran workshop presenter outlined strategies on how to capture some of that action at a ``Tires at Two'' seminar at the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show on Nov. 3.
Where do tire dealers miss the boat? ``They focus on tires more than auto repair,'' Mr. Frederick told Tire Business. ``Their life is tires and many just do auto repair as an accommodation to the tire business.
``Times have changed and tire dealers need to change,'' Mr. Frederick told his audience. For starters, today's more reliable vehicles, particularly Japanese, have made maintenance-rather than repair-vital to generating more business.
Significantly, ``today's most important customers are women,'' he pointed out. Women not only influence the decision in purchasing 80 percent of all products, they also purchased 71 percent of all auto maintenance, and 78 percent feel recommended maintenance is important. This is in marked contrast to men, who are more likely to refuse the work when it's suggested, he said.
Because three out of four women ages 25 to 54 work and also are busy being soccer moms and going to health clubs, shops need to be proactive. For example, 88 percent of women, Mr. Frederick said, want their service facility to manage their vehicle's maintenance. ATI recommends selling the auto makers' recommended 3,000-, 6,000-, 9,000- and 12,000-mile services and going to the local tire dealerships to ensure their maintenance packages and the description of the work performed are complete and competitive.
Most women assume their shops do courtesy inspections, and ATI has its clients convert that expectation into a cornerstone of their program: an inspection of every vehicle that comes in. ``Encourage appointments and get as many customers as possible to come in and leave the car,'' Mr. Frederick said. ``Get the mileage. And give them a logbook. Women love to be taught scheduling.''
The strategy has worked for Winchester Tire & Alignment, a family-owned store and ATI client.
``It's definitely created business,'' said Todd Holliday, who operates the Memphis store with his father Doc, the founder, and brother Scooter. ``For 30-plus years we operated as repair only. Now we've created a 34-point courtesy inspection. Each car that comes in gets checked by the technician for things like oil leaks, intake leaks, water pumps, the brakes and all the lights and turn signals.
``Eighty percent of the customers like it a whole lot. Then you have that 20 percent that think you're just trying to sell them something they don't need,'' Mr. Holliday said. ``We offer to take the customer out and show them what we found so there's no question about our ethics. At least 40 percent do at least part of the work that you show them that needs to be done right away, and the rest reschedule. We try to prioritize the list.''
ATI offers a 24-month ``re-engineering'' plan that focuses on parts and labor margins and pricing strategies, and tracks car count, net profits and accounts/receivables.
Businesses are assigned a coach who confers with the client once or twice a week, Mr. Frederick said. ``We track their 39 key performance indicators and help them implement change.'' The goal in the roughly 300-hour program-which also features ``unlimited'' training for service managers and six two-day owners meetings-is to produce leaders who will go back to the shop and teach others.
ATI's strategy makes the helpful, tech-turned-educator the program's anchor. ``You're not selling maintenance,'' Mr. Frederick said. ``Customers don't want to be sold. They want to make a buying decision.''
Determining the customers' hot button can get them ``emotionally spun up'' to agree to maintenance, he noted. For ``Mr. and Mrs. Fear,'' it's safety and reliability. For ``Mr. and Mrs. Simple and Easy,'' the benefit is the convenience of not having to come back or go elsewhere. ``Mr. and Mrs. Quality'' baby their vehicle because they look and feel good in it, he said. They'll want to see things like fluid samples, so it's always a good idea to have props such as clean and dirty transmission fluid or filters on hand.
To capture more maintenance work, the shop must often overcome both challenges from the customers and its own staff. A prime example of the former is the widespread belief that newer vehicles must be maintained at the new-car dealership to keep the warranty in effect.
ATI tells its clients to post a large ``stop sign'' explaining that the Magnusen-Moss Act of 1975 prohibits new car dealers from implying that scheduled maintenance done by independent service facilities voids warranty coverage.
A ``huge'' in-house problem is management that's not committed to selling maintenance. Your staff must buy into the philosophy that maintenance is a better investment than doing repairs. It also helps if you perform maintenance on your own car.
Other pluses that will win repeat business from women customers include spotless facilities-particularly bathrooms-play areas and toys for children, computer work stations and even a cappuccino machine.
``We have always kept a clean and orderly office, restrooms and waiting area,'' Mr. Holliday said. ``This is very welcoming to women. After attending ATI, I did come home and do a few extra things to the women's restroom-like potpourri, flowers and special soaps-and they were well noticed.
``Ladies have come out and have told us, `You have the cleanest, nicest bathroom of any business I've been in, let alone an automotive business.'''
Mr. Holliday said ATI's guidance has helped keep his family's 11-bay store profitable during what appears to have been an industrywide slow year. ``We are in our second year of the ATI program. It is a major investment (a little over $27,000, he said, when pressed) but a good investment. What is taught at the classes and the information you get from the 20 group meetings is great.''