Sometimes the best way to shore up the bottom line is to refuse business.
Or in the more succinct words of Garry Heintschel: ``You have to fire some customers. Don't be afraid to walk away.''
Mr. Heintschel, vice president and general manager of Heintschel Tire & Service in Texarkana, Texas, offered this bit of wisdom to dealers attending a seminar on ``How to increase commercial tire and retread sales'' during the recent World Tire Expo in Louisville.
``Have the courage to walk away (from unprofitable business),'' he said. ``Stick to your price...emphasize the total service package,...and quite often you'll get back that customer you fired through integrity.''
Mr. Heintschel's thoughts were echoed by his fellow panelists, Terry Westhafer of Central Tire Corp. in Verona, Va., and Joe Shrader of Shrader Tire & Oil in Toledo, Ohio.
``Protect your good customers,'' Mr. Westhafer said, indicating dealers shouldn't jeopardize solid business by worrying about marginal business or new accounts that likely are shopping around for the lowest price.
The three panelists addressed a wide range of questions from moderator Al Chicago, senior vice president of Purcell Tire & Rubber Co. The audience offered a variety of suggestions for more sales.
In terms of competition, Mr. Shrader urged dealers to ``be a solution provider. Play to your strength as a regional dealer.''
Mr. Westhafer suggested dealers emphasize customer service-customer-oriented products and services that offer the lowest cost-per-mile solution.
Mr. Heintschel offered simply, ``Service, service, service-know your customer; be knowledgeable about his business and keep his best interests at heart.''
Service extends into taking care of the customer's bottom line, too, Mr. Shrader said. ``Strive for error-free billing. Documentation is critical.''
Mr. Westhafer cautioned dealers to exercise control over what they do. For instance, consider differing costs in rural vs. metro service calls, he said.
With new tires in tight supply this year, most dealers have been forced to take on additional tire lines and/or new suppliers and have sold more retreads, the panelists agreed.
``When it comes to selling more retreads,'' Mr. Shrader said, ``sell value, not retreads. Sell the mileage, cost containment, efficiencies, etc.''
Mr. Westhafer suggested there's a huge market for cap and casing supply. In that vein, Central Tire builds inventory in the winter when business is slower and sells them in the busy summer months when the staff is busy with service work.
Part of improving retread sales is motivating the sales staff to sell them, the panelists agreed.
``A new tire is a `generic' tire,'' Mr. Westhafer said. ``Instead, we're trying to give our retread product its own identity.''
Salesmen almost always take the path of least resistance, according to Mr. Shrader, so Shrader Tire offers good incentives.
``I pay 'em more to sell retreads,'' Mr. Heintschel said. ``I'm a manufacturer, and I want to grow my own business.''
As for new tires, ``wholesalers are saving the independent dealer,'' Mr. Heintschel said. ``We (independents) are at the bottom of the food chain for the manufacturers but at the top of the wholesalers' food chain.''
Mr. Westhafer urged dealers to maintain good lines of credit, a situation that can help a dealer build up stocks when the market allows it.
``This is a seller's market,'' he cautioned. ``Manufacturers and wholesalers don't have to extend. You need to work smarter, not harder.''
Mr. Westhafer admitted Central Tire is hoarding tires-but even then it still is short in some specific sizes and types.
The panelists cautioned independents to keep national account business in check, saying there's usually more profit in local business.
``The profit in a national account is in the service,'' Mr. Westhafer said. ``If there's no provision for incremental service, watch out.''
The panelists urged dealers not to sell themselves short, to charge fair prices for the services they provide.
``We're our own worst enemies,'' Mr. Heintschel said. ``Stick to your price.... Emphasize the total service package.''
The panelists also suggested dealers not shy away from adding a fuel surcharge during the current fuel price surge.