Mark Gillard, head of advertising at Sullivan Tire & Auto Service, Norwell, Mass.:
The number of people that research tires online before buying has increased dramatically.
In the past, the consumer relied solely on what was recommended by the person behind the counter. Now customers are armed with information when they walk into your shop.
Nearly everyone has a smartphone with Internet capabilities. Having a mobile website, for a dealership, is absolutely essential. We've seen mobile visits to our website explode in the past 12-18 months.
A recent survey done by Compete/Google found one in five mobile users researches products while at the retailer. It's not uncommon for a customer to comparison shop a price you gave them right from their smartphone while sitting in your showroom.
Another consumer influence trend has been social media and consumer reviews. Many shoppers trust the opinions of other consumers and their purchase decisions are influenced by this. Amazon.com relies heavily on consumer product reviews.
Facebook is developing an interesting program called Graph Search (currently in beta). With Graph Search, a person can easily look at what brands, businesses and products people are using. They can then send that person a message for insight on their experience with the company or product.
This could become an enormous part of consumer influence that we all need to be aware of.
Cost is so key today. How do I explain why a more expensive tire really will meet the customer's needs?
Paul Sullivan, vice president of marketing, Sullivan Tire & Auto Service, Norwell, Mass.:
I think things are improving in terms of being able to sell the premium tire. Three or four years ago, people were just trying to get by. But I think: a) consumers are loaded with information when they come into your store. They do a lot of research, online research. And if you take the time and explain to them exactly what they're buying...and what are the features and benefits of one tire vs. the other, I think it becomes a fairly easy decision for them.
Certainly, in some cases, it's all based on the number of automobiles in the household. When you get down to households with four automobiles, usually that fourth automobilewhich is a much, much older vehiclethey just want to keep it running, keep it on the road.
(To read more of Mr. Sullivan's thoughts on the market, read Reasons for optimism in the June 10 print edition of Tire Business.)