CLEARWATER, Minn.Since its founding four years ago, Tire Solutions Inc. has been adding to its ranks by using the personal touch.
Rick Lang, president, CEO and majority owner, founded the marketing group in 2010. He previously had developed Royal Tire Inc.'s Tire One affiliated dealer program in 1995 but left the company with some of his staff when the Tire One program was sold to U.S. AutoForce, the Combined Locks, Wis.-based auto parts and tire wholesaler.
We knew that program distribution works. We've done it before and we know what the customers are hungry for out there. We had built this before, we can do this again, and so we started Tire Solutions, Mr. Lang told Tire Business.
It's just been a fabulous growth pattern here for the first four years. We've just exploded, and we've recently built a brand new office and warehouse facility, which will support our future expansion, he said.
Tire Solutions distributes tires and wheels to 147 associate dealers, nearly all in Minnesota. Now the marketing group is seeking to sign up dealers in adjacent Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa.
Tire Solutions hopes to add 35 stores by year-end; next year its goal is to reach 250 dealerships, he said.
During its early years, Tire Solutions was signing up former Tire One dealers, aided in part by the long-term relationships Mr. Lang and his staff had developed with the dealers under the Tire One program, he said.
Now we're finding guys who weren't involved in programs but have a need to be.... It's almost impossible to survive on your own today, he added.
Some dealers still don't belong to a marketing group, he said, because they don't know enough about some of the groups, they can't afford the monthly fees or they don't want to change their business names.
We go in and explain the program and tell them there is no charge. You buy tires from us and we're going to provide a service to you that will make a difference in your business. We put that money where our mouth is and say, 'We'll prove it to you. You buy tires. We'll show you how we're going to increase your business and if we don't, you can quit buying from us,' Mr. Lang said.
Tire Solutions makes it profits from the sale of tires to its associate dealers.
A lot of the programs that are offered out there right now are offered through big corporations.... But what they don't have is a lot of personal touch. I'm the president and CEO of the company, but I know a lot of our customers and I'll go out and actually sit down with them and do P&L (profit and loss) reviews with them.
We bring a lot of personal touch to it. We added a marketing department in 2013 to our business, and so now we have a marketing department that actually goes out and personalizes each market for each of our installers to meet the needs of their respective areas.
He noted that a focus on television ads makes sense in some markets, while newspaper ads or direct mail makes more sense in other types of markets.
What's unique about our marketing department, it isn't that, 'We have this program and you come and use it.' We build it differently for each market that we're in, he said. It's a real personalized approach depending upon where they're at. What works in St. Cloud, Minn., doesn't work in Annandale, Minn., and other small markets. So we have a different approach for the different areas.
Because of our past experience with Tire One, we learned a lot about program distribution and we learned a lot of things that the dealers like and...some things they don't like. One thing they don't like is they don't want to change their name.
They're very proud of their name. It could be a family business, it could be something they worked at for a long time and they don't want someone coming in and saying, 'Hey, we're going to change your name.'
That's what we tried to do before and that was confusing to them and their customers. So we made a different approach this time. So if your name is Johnson Auto, we're not going to change it to Tire Solutions. We'll change it to: 'Johnson Auto and they are a Tire Solutions installer.'
Tire Solutions provides signage and P.O.P. materials, but its primary focus is on marketing and training.
That's where our strength of our company and our customers is, he said, that personal approach to their market.
Mr. Lang said his staff provides dealers with a market survey of prices for tires and automotive services and develops advertising strategies.
We developed a plan to go out and help some dealers who don't do a lot of advertising and help them with the investment of promoting their businesses, Mr. Lang said of the company's marketing plan this fall. We will hopefully show them how a good marketing investment pays dividends.
He said one of the marketing follies he sees among tire dealerships is inconsistencyin the ad message and timeliness.
Some believe they can send an ad out one day and that's their marketing program for the year or for six months. And the next time they do it, they do something totally different.
One of our marketing strategies is to help them develop a 'purple cow' by assisting the dealer in promoting what makes them different. What do people remember you by and keep talking about that. Don't be the flavor of the month.
To reach this reporter: [email protected]; 330-865-6127.