The dealerships in this article also are featured in a Then and Now photo spread on page 18.
The boom and expansion of the Internet is one of the biggest changes to happen throughout the past 30 years, and that has affected the tire industry in many ways, though it's not the only change that has occurred.
Staying current in appearance, services and all around business procedures have also changed drastically since Tire Business first started reporting on the industry.
Today, you have to be a smart cookie to fix cars, said Myron Boncarosky, president of Fairfax, Va.-based Virginia Tire & Auto.
A lot of the drivability problems are a software issue. You have to go in and know how to put new software in.
He said the requirements to fix cars have changed drastically over the years. In the past it might have been the people who did not perform well in school who came to be automotive technicians, but now they need to know software, computers and other specialized tools to work on vehicles.
The advancement of computers and the Internet has largely contributed to these changes.
The Internet is transformative in some ways in that a consumer now has more information than they ever had, said Pat Schulte, vice president of sales and marketing for Somerset Tire Service Inc. (STS) in Bound Brook, N.J.
Consumers are using the Internet to get educated and read reviews, he said, but the Internet also is helping customers make more informed choices.
Nonetheless, they still need expert advice because their vehicles are more technologically advanced than ever, and the products and services we provide are tough to do on their own, Mr. Schulte added.
Tom Richey, owner of Pittsburgh-based Laurel Gardens Tire Service, said there are people who come into his tire shop and ask what the best tire isasking for his expertise.
That's sort of like saying, 'Hey, what's the best baseball player or football player out there?'.... There's a lot of top athletes and a lot of top tires out there, also.
He said one of the biggest changes in the services his shop provides is tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) as it has brought some new and exciting challenges to the northeastern part of the country. That's because TPMS is not holding up too well underneath the salt that we use, and the corrosion is destroying them.
TPMS didn't come into widespread use until the early to mid- 2000s.
Mr. Boncarosky said that 30 years ago all of Virginia Tire's invoicing was done manually.
They were handwritten. Everything was key-punched, he added.
He said his wife Carole handles the invoices, and after looking them over, sometimes would have to call a customer and say he or she was either overcharged or undercharged, but today you don't have to worry about that.
Even reminders for services and other follow-up procedures were all done by hand 30 years ago. Today, it's just so automated. It's so easy to pull information up.
To me, probably the biggest change is that it is just so easy to do things as far as managing the administrative part of the business, Mr. Boncarosky said.
He added that cell phones make the administrative side of things easier.
Years ago, when I left the store, I'd be on the road...(and) if something went wrong, they had no way to contact me, he said. Today, they contact me very quickly.
Payroll was completely different back then as well, he said. Employees were paid in cash with a small ticket that noted the taxes removed.
So things have really evolved since then.
Mr. Schulte said STS also is using the Internet and other computer initiatives to make the business-end of the operation more effective.
STS is using the Internet to promote our business, educate the consumer on important buying decisions and communicate our unique value proposition, he said.
We also use the Internet to support our operations, communicate internally and interact with suppliers.
Mr. Richey said he thought the process of selling tires 30 years ago was easier because there were fewer tire manufacturers and fewer sizes to have to remember.
When I started, there were so few tire manufacturers around at that date and there were a lot less tire sizes, he said. ...You knew every wheel that fit on every car; you knew its part number and its tire size you needed.
However, he said throughout the years the business has evolved from having to do a lot manually, which could be quite slow, to using computers that keep all the inventory right there at hand.
This type of system also has made it easier to find customers' last purchases, a record of the services performed on their vehicles and other information.
Mr. Richey said he thinks things are continuing to shift to the Internetand that includes dealerships slowly moving their marketing efforts online as well.
He noted that he is entrenched in the community, so the business still advertises in church bulletins and with local softball and football teams, and schools, but much of the efforts are now online.
Mr. Schulte said STS' marketing also has changed over time.
Our core marketing strategies have evolved over time to adapt to the changing consumer and the ways you reach a consumer.
The basics of the company are to have consistent service delivery, store merchandising, point-of-sale, etc., however, he said, What has changed is the proliferation of the ways in which you can reach a consumer.
This challenge requires a deeper knowledge of who your customers are and where they get their information.
Mr. Boncarosky said 30 years ago, the business relied on flyers and printed advertisements that were targeted to a local market.
We always wanted to be recognized differently than our competitors.
The company put an emphasis on making the outside of its stores appealing, he said, and would plant flowers and shrubbery so it looked good when you come up to the location.
Although he still wants the stores to have this appeal, now online marketing and advertisements are another outside face of the dealership that the public sees.
We have a person that just handles our Facebook and handles our updates on our reputation. That's their whole job, he added, because today if you do something wrong, it can go out very quickly on the Internet and somebody can paint a wrong picture of who you are and you really have to protect your reputation.
Mr. Boncarosky said that if a customer has an issue, his dealership seeks to resolve it before it becomes a public issue because what might seem trivial is not to a customer.
All three dealerships constantly change their showroom floors based on different promotions and customer needs rather than on a specific time frame.
STS' remodeling process is ongoing, Mr. Schulte said.
We constantly evaluate the best way to merchandise and promote our value and service offering. We try to stay up on new merchandising trends and techniques to better serve our customers.
He added that maintaining a contemporary look is important because the company wants to project the right brand message.
Mr. Richey said his one-shop location has a small showroom floor and cannot display many tires, but Laurel Gardens Tire uses various light-up signs for the different tire brands the company sells.
Another change that has evolved over the years, he said, is the dress code of his employeesthey now wear uniforms instead of just jeans and a T-shirt.
We try to stay clean and proper, he said.
Mr. Boncarosky said Virginia Tire recently began putting more of a focus on its own brand. It previously heavily promoted Goodyear in its showrooms.
If Goodyear had a new set up as far as displays, we'd be one of the first ones to want to get involved in it just to give it a different look.
Although Goodyear is still an important part of the dealership's business, it wanted to do things a little differently to emphasize the Virginia Tire brand, he said.
And although its employee uniforms may change throughout the years, Mr. Boncarosky said his front-line people are in a shirt and tie to exhibit a professional image.
He added that the tire industry has been incorporating more women in the business throughout the years. I know customers feel very good about having a female talking with them about automotive service, he said. At one time, that would not be that way.
However, he said overall, Virginia Tire mainly finds men still applying for open positions.
While things have changed much in the past 30 yearsand that includes the complexity of the tire industryone thing has stood the test of time: People will always need tires and maintenance service for their vehicles.
To reach this reporter: [email protected]; 330-865-6143.