"Don't bend; don't water it down; don't try to make it logical; don't edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly." — Franz Kafka
I've just realized that after 20 years of owning a retail tire store, I don't have to be perfect—just good. I can be myself: Follow my passion for the business and the customer experience, without paying lip service to vendors and manufacturers who continue trying to be perfect.
I am using my small business advantage in social media and adapting to new ideas and trends. The timing couldn't have been better. Customers are so much more informed than they were 10 years ago, and two out of three will research tires and reviews online before making the local calls to buy them. On the average day at the counter, I field as many opinions as questions.
Each interaction becomes more challenging and complex. With the wealth of information our customers have, we are not in control of the transaction anymore, and sometimes when the phone call is done, there is even more confusion. Deciphering and acting on what a customer is really saying is the hard part today.
Savvy, post-recession consumers are trained to get the best possible deal at the best possible place. As an industry, I think we're not keeping up very well. We're still trying to sell tires the way we did for years.
Everyone knows how to fix a flat, do an alignment, and it seems we're doing little to understand what the customer really wants. My customers want transparency and ass-kicking service at the lowest price.
If I can't provide that, then I can't be upset when they try somewhere else and like it. And when I am the customer, I don't need rebates and gimmicks to sell tires. I don't need a level playing field, 80,000-mile tires or free trips.
I don't need recognition, awards or even a mention on your website. What I do need is faster delivery times, connectivity with my point-of-sale system and a fair warranty process.
In today's world, these are not unreasonable requests. Yet I think we're still being fed what the distributor/manufacturer thinks we want—or wants us to want. Not what we really want, because it might not fit into their plans. Yes, 65 percent of customers are researching online but few will buy, deliver or install when their installer is a Sears, NTB or a gas station two towns over. It's time to take this business—and your customers—back. Be transparent and blame the manufacturer for everything. Customers want to buy locally, and you'll need to give them a reason to do that.
Spencer Carruthers is the owner of Kenwood Tire Co. Inc. in West Bridgewater, Mass. He originally wrote this column for The Road Runner, the newsletter of the New England Tire & Service Association.