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Catering to "boss' Five-star dealers New tires

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NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Bridgestone Americas is adding and revamping the benefits of its recently created Affiliated Retailer Network as well as introducing four Bridgestone-brand tires early next year, according to presentations made during the company's retail dealer meeting Oct. 18 in Nashville.

Earlier this year the tire maker combined its Affiliated Dealer, TireStarz and Family Retail Dealer support programs for independent dealers in the U.S. under the Affiliated Retailer umbrella. The new program has more than 2,500 locations, the company said.

During the meeting attended by more than 250 dealers, John Baratta, president, replacement tire sales, U.S. & Canada Consumer Tire Sales division, Bridgestone Americas, touted the advantages of the new Affiliated program.

“Up until this year these programs were internally focused. The big news for the future is that we are making the Bridgestone Affiliated Retailer Network a consumer-focused program. This change was made to better service the needs of the 'boss' (customer),” he said.

The combined network allows Bridgestone “to streamline and provide a more consistent message to the customer” and drive more customers to its dealers, Mr. Baratta said.

Revised features of the Affiliated Retailer program include:

c A fill-in program that includes all network dealers and will allow retailers to go to one authorized distributor to get just-in-time inventory;

c Participation in the company's spent tire recycling program, in which Bridgestone has pledged to recycle a scrap tire for every one of its tires sold in North America, enabling dealers to save money on their tire disposal costs;

c A Nationwide Tire Protection Service Warranty that provides customers with tire repair or replacement and roadside assistance from any Affiliated Retailer in the country; and

c A new Affiliated Retailer credit card, to be issued to consumers who hold the old Affiliated Dealer and tire stores cards, that will include a $70 American Express gift card mail-in rebate for purchase of any four Bridgestone passenger or light truck tires.

Nashville-based Bridgestone also is revising its website, optimizing it for mobile, tablet and desktop computers and improving seamless browsing between the devices, the company said.

The website provides manufacturers' suggested retail price (MSRP) information on tires “to help consumers understand product choices relative to one another,” said Michael Fluck, director of brand and retail marketing.

“Recent research indicates 89 percent of consumers that visit our sites want pricing. About 26 percent of consumers visit one manufacturer site while 74 percent visit two or more sites. So we want to give them the information they need,” he said.

Noting that recent research shows that tire dealer websites are slightly more influential on purchase behavior than tire manufacturer sites, he suggested dealers post pricing on their websites, if possible. He also encouraged tire dealers to keep their websites current and active and personalize their sites with photos, especially of their sales associates, since tire salespeople are the third most significant influence on purchase behavior.

He also suggested dealer websites offer tools to request a quote or schedule an appointment as a way to generate sales leads; provide store-specific landing pages if a dealership has multiple locations; and offer descriptive content on products and services offered.

Dealers also should manage their reputations online on sites such as Yelp and Google and share the consumer feedback from those sites on their own websites and social media.

“Consumers want transparency. Reputation is one of the five most important influences on purchase behavior. Stay engaged with consumers between purchases with social media, email marketing and other tools,” Mr. Fluck said.

During the first quarter of 2013, Bridgestone expects to launch an enterprise program that will help Affiliated Retailers communicate with customers between visits. Point-of-sale software will store a customer's vehicle records on a personal web page that the customer can access at anytime.

Customers can log in to make appointments with any affiliated retailer while the company can email the customers to inform them of local and national promotions and send automatic service reminders.

Bridgestone has revamped its Five- Star Certified Performance Retailer program for its Affiliated Retailers after announcing the program three years ago.

To qualify for the recognition, a dealership must: be nominated by its regional sales team; have a modern and clean facility; staff industry-certified technicians; have sales associates who have completed the re-quired Bridgestone education modules; set up a merchandising plan that features Bridgestone-brand products; install up-to-date equipment that enables installation of low-profile and run-flat tires; and perform services on high-end, high-tech vehicles.

While there are no extra incentives to being named a Five-Star retailer, the designation provides the retailers with recognition in the market “as the place to buy Bridgestone products and have your high-end vehicle serviced,” the company said.

Bridgestone has created a Five-Star Certified retailer website, Bridgestonefivestar.com, to which the company will drive consumers through geo-targeted searches.

Bridgestone tires set to debut next year are:

c Potenza RE97AS, described as a performance/touring tire targeted at owners of performance vehicles such as the Acura TL, Mazda 6 and Nissan Maxima, due out in March;

c Potenza RE-11A, a UHP wet performance and grip tire with V- and W-ratings that promises durable wear at 15-percent lower cost than the current RE-11. The line is due to launch in March;

c Dueler H/P Sport AS, a performance tire for high-end crossover vehicles, due out in April; and

c Blizzak LM-32, a V- and W-rated winter tire for European luxury sedans that offers improved fuel efficiency, due to launch in July.

Bridgestone also plans to add sizes to several Bridgestone lines, Firestone Destination and Firehawk lines and Fuzion touring lines.



To reach this reporter: kmccarron@crain.com; 330-865-6127.
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