Car dealerships' continuing encroachment on tire sales. Making the Web work for you. The pros and cons of used tire sales. Hiring right.
Those were just four of the hot topics on the minds of tire dealers attending an Oct. 30 ``Successful Tire Dealers Share Their Secrets'' session sponsored by the Tire Industry Association (TIA) and held at the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show in Las Vegas.
The lineup of ``successful dealers'' consisted of Chip Huber, Q Fix Truck Service in Louisville, Ky.; Scott Koldenhoven, Big O Tires Inc. in Colorado Springs, Colo.; James Raben, Raben Tire Co. Inc., Evansville, Ind.; Dave Crawford, American Car Care Centers Inc. director of marketing; William Jarvis, Midwest Tire & Auto Repair, Schererville, Ind.; and Mike Berra Jr., Community Tire Retreading, St. Louis, Missouri. (Messrs. Huber, Raben and Berra also are on TIA's board of directors.)
Away from the carnival-like atmosphere of the SEMA show floor, the panel of veteran tire retailers and wholesalers from diverse market segments and geographic areas shared how they've managed to thrive in an environment of legislative challenges, changing market demographics, globalization and the relentless proliferation of technology and vehicle models.
``We look hard at how we hire people,'' Mr. Koldenhoven said, noting the adage ``fire quickly, hire slowly'' has merit.
To counter new car dealerships that sell tires-and sell them ``pretty cheap''-Mr. Koldenhoven said his employees and managers try to treat every customer ``over the top, giving 110 percent to keep them in our family.''
Mr. Jarvis advised dealers to make the Internet work for them. A tire dealer's Web site needs to provide information about the company, locations, hours of operation and services offered, he said, but the site should be used to sell products, make appointments and list prices. ``It's a must in our business,'' he said. ``And keep in mind that you have to drive people to that Web site. Every flyer should have the Web site address on it.''
Mr. Crawford said that with rim diameters growing and low-profile tires being so common, road hazard and tire protection plans-at charges that can run about $30 to $35 per tire-can mean big profits. For performance tires, he suggested charges of 10 to 12 percent of the retail cost. A former TIA board member, Mr. Crawford recently was named vice president of business development for Mail America, which specializes in direct marketing and customer retention programs. He will leave ACCC in December.
Mr. Koldenhoven agreed, noting that in 2006 such sales added $200,000 in revenue. The charge to the customer was about $7.99 per tire or 13 percent of the retail price of the tire. ``We're successful in selling it about 75 percent of the time. It's a cash cow for us,'' he said.
Dealers need to pay attention to what women customers want, the panelists said.
``Hire a female consultant to help you redo your stores,'' Mr. Crawford advised. ``Women apparently like softer, muted colors, not the bright, bold colors we like.''
Mr. Jarvis said offering wireless Internet service helps, too. ``One of the things ladies want is a hook on the back of the bathroom door,'' he added.
The most spirited discussion, however, was on whether to sell used tires. ``It's obvious the (tire) manufacturers are trying to shift all the blame on the tire,'' said one dealer.
Mr. Koldenhoven said his Big O store sells a lot of used tires and doesn't see a problem because ``we know where the tire comes from. I don't want to buy junk tires. If they're junky we throw them away. A $25 used tire can cost you everything you ever worked for'' if the tire fails and causes an injury or death, he explained.
Mr. Raben said his family's stores would sell a used tire ``as a last resort,'' and he advised a ``best-practices'' approach be developed on selling used tires.
He also mentioned that his family-owned dealership is developing a waiver that would release the business from liability, but some audience members were highly skeptical that would be an effective shield.