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Tire Pros aim: Help its dealers remain competitive

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Tire Business photo by Dave Zielasko Dave Crawford, vice president of operations: "To be the best tire and service retailer of elite, independent and locally invested dealers who are committed to providing customers with a hassle-free experience."

LAS VEGAS (Feb. 28, 2014) — Tire Pros, the tire dealer program operated by American Tire Distributors Holdings Inc. (ATD), wants to reach 1,000 participating locations long-term, from about 560 today, but that's not the company's primary objective in 2014.

Instead, the organization's focus this year is on helping its tire dealer members level the playing field and remain competitive in what has become an ever-more-demanding and fast-changing marketplace populated by larger and larger companies.

"While I want to emphasize that we want to continue to grow this franchise and grow the stores to a thousand, that's an objective," said Tire Pros President Dan Brown, speaking at the organization's 2014 National Dealer Business Conference at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas.

"Our emphasis continues to be around quality. We've clearly heard from the (Tire Pros National) Council that if I'm going to put this name on my building, I want to make sure that my neighboring dealer is providing as equal quality as I am." Tire Pros is looking for dealers who are committed to the program and who understand that success is broader than the price on the invoice, Mr. Brown said. There's a whole package that needs to be addressed "to ultimately get to the success we're after."

Tire Pros dealers don't just want to survive in the automotive industry, they want to win, said Greg Moore, president of the National Dealer Council and owner of Discount Tire & Service Tire Pros in Terrell, Texas.

"Here's our challenge from the National Council," he said in his kick-off address at the business meeting. "We don't want to win any more. We want to run up the score on the competition in 2014. "

Getting back to grassroots

Tire Business archive photo Dan Brown, president of Tire Pros

To help dealers stay competitive, Tire Pros in 2014 is focusing on four areas — training, execution, consistency and benchmarking, Mr. Brown said.

"We want to get back to grassroots and make this program go from the bottom up, not just from the top down," Mr. Moore said.

A goal of the National Council is to reconnect all the dealers, Mr. Moore said, "so we get back to the same page together and everybody's in the loop of what's going on and what's happening with the program, what upgrades we've got and what new things are there."

A second focus is to help dealers, through the Tire Pros business consultants, be successful financially.

"We want to help those dealers find out if they are doing great on gross profits, doing good on sales of programs (or) if they go home at the end of the month and they've got nothing to take home," Mr. Moore said. "How do we keep in house, what came in house?"

Why is the need to remain competitive so important? Mr. Brown asked rhetorically in his speech. He cited a recent mystery shopping project conducted by a third party as an example.

Last fall, 2,200 independent tire dealers around the country were contacted, along with 1,300 of their competitors. The dealers and competitors were rated on their phone skills and the outcomes were put on a scale.

"Unfortunately, the independent tire dealers' phone skills came out at the bottom of the list," Mr. Brown said. "It highlights the challenge we have and the training opportunity to work and to improve our phone skills."

Pricing issues

Another issue connected to this research, Mr. Brown said, is that independent tire dealers quoted the highest price for tires during these phone shops.

"How many store visits are we not getting because of the way the phone is answered or handled or because of the price that's being quoted?" he asked.

Today, price is a bigger component in the decision-making process than it was a number of years ago, Mr. Brown said, citing research that shows 47 percent of consumers rate price as being a primary consideration when making a tire purchase.

At one time, the decision-making process was based one third each on store location, brand of tire and price. "Today it has shifted," Mr. Brown said. "And I think some of our bigger, more well-resourced competitors have access to research that has addressed that through their business model. And so it is something we need to be aware of."

The Internet also has changed tire retailing, ATD President and CEO Bill Berry told dealers at the meeting. Tire shoppers today research purchases on their iPhone or Android device before they walk into a store, and thus are more knowledgeable than they have been ever before.

"We're all going to have to deal with a much more informed consumer then we used to," he said. "So that requires us to approach that consumer differently than when we were totally the source of knowledge for the product. And we see that continuing and becoming more important."

Mobile devices driving business

A second change involves the growing use of mobile devices and how they are driving traffic to tire stores.

"Mobile's going to become more and more and more important," Mr. Berry said, and become a tool that may even replace the tablets many people use today.

With more consumers accessing information about tires and tire stores from their mobile devices, tire dealerships' websites will have to provide more information, including directions to the store, maps and phone numbers that can be clicked on to dial, Mr. Berry said.

The consumer may be using these devices while they are in your stores doing research, he said, whether that is comparing products, pricing or whatever.

Tire Pros is working on developing a mobile site, which should be released by the end of the first quarter, he said, "so we capture that traffic trying to drive it to the retail base."

With communication so easy on mobile devices, taking care of customers and solving problems is crucial, the Tire Pros and ATD executives said. It used to be when a customer had a bad experience, they told 10 people, Mr. Berry said. Today they are going to tell 10 million people.

"It is extremely important that we focus more and more on that customer experience because ratings and reviews really do matter."

New mission statement

To help guide the dealer group, Tire Pros has developed a new mission statement, said Dave Crawford, vice president of operations: "To be the best tire and service retailer of elite, independent and locally invested dealers who are committed to providing customers with a hassle-free experience."

"Everything going forward—training, development, focus, everything—has to wrap around this mission statement," he said.

Image is an important part of this, he said. Research shows that 95 percent of consumers say the image of a facility helps determine whether they are going to buy from a retailer.

To help dealers upgrade their locations and improve the visual appearance of their locations, Tire Pros has partnered with a company called ProView on a program "to help change the image of our stores from being traditional tire shops, if you will, to being progressive retailers that sell tires," Mr. Crawford said.

The company has designed a common look featuring an awning that will showcase a dealership's and the Tire Pros' names and includes and interior and exterior package that dealers can adapt to their stores to give them a more consistent appearance with other Tire Pros stores across all markets, Mr. Brown said.

"That to us is going to be our golden arch," Mr. Crawford said. "That's going to be something that identifies us as Tire Pros Dealers."

Interested Tire Pros dealers can upload a picture of their stores to ProView and, at no cost, get a rendering back showing what their store would look if it were spruced up, both inside and out.

The program is not mandatory and dealers don't have to invest in an upgrade if they choose not to, but there are a lot of facilities out there that could use a freshening up, Mr. Crawford said.

Many consumers consider tire shops to be worn, dirty and old, he said.

"We need to change that image. We need to sit there and invest in looking forward in what we want to do and how we want to do it. So we developed a complete program."

The program cab be tailored to fit any budget, Mr. Crawford added.

Polishing up communication skills

Mr. Crawford also talked about the importance of mastering communications, especially the telephone. Echoing Mr. Brown's comments regarding the mystery shopping research, Mr. Crawford said Tire Pros, in particular, will be working to improve dealers' phone skills.

"Everybody in your store needs to train," he said. "Not just the people at the counter, not you, not just your salespeople. Everybody does."

To help with training, Tire Pros is going to focus on what Mr. Crawford called "train the trainer." Tire Pros has begun training employees internally in sales, finances and products so they can help dealers and their employees be better at what they do.

Marketing will play a greater role at Tire Pros in 2014, with the group introducing Local Dealer Days promotions.

Dealer promotions

These are promotions that highlight the Tire Pros dealer and Tire Pros brand and include a tire rebate.

"It's about being united, being arm and arm with each other, our family, and being united under a common identity and common mission," said Quick Chadwick, Tire Pros director of marketing.

The first Dealer Days promotion began Feb. 18 and is running to March 20 and will have a tax-rebate theme. Tire Pros will offer a $75 exclusive tire rebate on four select Continental- and General-brand tires.

In the second quarter, the promotion's theme will be all about the family. In the third quarter, the theme will revolve around education and in the fourth quarter, "true to our retail nature, true to our retail roots, we're going to create a kind of spiff off of Black Friday, a red and black Friday theme," Mr. Chadwick said.

For each of the promotions, Tire Pros is asking dealers to contribute a $25 service now/thank you card, which in the case of the Conti and General tire promotions would increase the total give-back to $100.

Also in 2014, Tire Pros corporate will begin managing its own social medial pages across seven channels, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, Mr. Chadwick said. "This will give us an opportunity to converse, engage with our customers and also centralize content so we can push it down to your pages and your efforts," he told dealers.

Tire Pros also will offer its dealers an in-house digital menu board in 2014 developed in conjunction with ProVision. Another marketing initiative will be centered on group advertising. Tire Pros conducted 19 such campaigns last year involving 199 dealers, 80 percent more than in 2012, generating 55 million impressions, Mr. Chadwick said.

One group effort really turned some heads last year, Mr. Chadwick said. More than 20 dealers in Southern California got together for a multi-faceted strategic partnership with the L.A. Galaxy of Major League Soccer.

"In a couple of weeks we intend to renew with the LA Galaxy, Mr. Chadwick said.

This year, Tire Pros has group efforts planned for dealers from the Texas Panhandle to Greenville, S.C., to California. In addition, 12 Tire Pros dealers in Virginia have joined together to become the official tire retailer of the University of Virginia.

To support these and other programs, ATD has kicked in an additional $500,000 to supplement these group and regional efforts, Mr. Chadwick said.

"This will surely be a way to deliver our brand promise and grow our brand to become a household name," he said.

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To reach this reporter: dzielasko@crain.com; 330-865-6130.

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