Retired dealer Don Olson's popular tire dealer forums continued at this year's Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show in Las Vegas, with 10 participants-described as ``successful dealers''-taking part in two sessions.
Those dealers presented advice and lessons learned on a variety of topics, including adding stores beyond a single outlet, recruiting good employees and attracting female customers.
The dealer panelists were: Ben Kravitz of Summit Tire of New England; Steve Maddox of Anaheim Wheel & Tire; Dana Foote of Big O Tires of Loveland, Colo.; Gary Albright of Becker Tire & Treading; Kurt Emans of Easter Tire; Patti Pacione of Carter Tire Sales & Service; Allen Wilson of Big O Las Vegas; Paul Ibbetson of Service Specialist; Ken Brown of Allen Brown Tire Center; and Dennis Dickson of Indy Tire Centers Inc.
Here is a sampling of some ideas offered during the sessions:
* Advertising-Mr. Foote said he does some print and radio ads, and he sponsors a local hockey league for exposure. He also never charges for flat repair, regardless of where the tire was bought. ``I get a lot of good word-of-mouth advertising because of that,'' he said, adding he fixes about 20 flats a day.
* Adding stores-Mr. Kravitz said more isn't always merrier. Many single-outlet dealerships are more successful than ones with six to seven stores, he said, because the owners of the larger businesses start to lose control and don't have enough employees to manage the stores effectively. Mr. Albright agreed that good employees are absolutely necessary for growth. ``That's the tough one,'' he said.
* Recruiting employees-Mr. Albright said he keeps an eye out for someone with a good attitude over anything else because, he said, he can teach the tire business. He also is involved with an automotive course at a community college and cherry-picks the best students. Mr. Dickson said he has been ``semi-successful'' recruiting at trade schools and prefers to look to competing shops. ``We try to look at creating a good work environment,'' he said. Mr. Wilson said he sells technicians on the prospect of starting a career with possible advancement.
* The enthusiast market-Mr. Maddox said the tuner/enthusiast market is a ``whole different world'' that requires knowledge and training. ``It's very hard to dabble in that market,'' he said. Mr. Wilson agreed, noting that ``unless you have guys who are sharp in it, it's a mistake to jump into it.''
* New car dealers-Mr. Emans said tire dealers can still win on service, especially considering many can get customers out the door faster than car dealerships. ``It all comes back to service,'' he said.
Mr. Kravitz added that car dealers aren't a major threat, but they're not going away. ``They're not making money selling cars anymore, so they're looking for these other profit centers,'' he said. Mr. Ibbetson said he doesn't compete against car dealers but sells to them. He said 80 percent of his business is to car dealerships and the rest is referred by the car shops. Service Specialist doesn't advertise at all to the general market. It posts $8 million in annual sales.
* Appealing to women customers-Most dealers said they strive to have clean, hospitable environments and salespeople who don't hard-sell male or female customers. Mr. Foote added that he no longer advertises in the sports section of the newspaper, instead going for the local news or front sections. Mr. Albright said his salespeople take women customers out to their car on the lift and explain the work in detail.