SCRANTON, Pa.The tire industry is not what it was 20 years agoor even five years ago, for that matter.
It is constantly evolving and no area shows this more than in the realm of technology and innovation. With the emergence of different kinds of software, tire dealers have more information than ever at their fingertips.
Patrick Sandone, founder and president of Scranton-based Net Driven, took his experience both in the independent automotive aftermarket and working at a venture capital firm investing in cutting-edge technologies to create Net Driven, a software-as-a-service technology firm.
He said he was seeing that, with some independent tire dealerships not having a really solid digital platform, some of the larger national dealership chains were realizing a really competitive advantage.
So we wanted to even the playing field, Mr. Sandone told Tire Business.
Net Driven's goal is to think about what is coming next and how those trends can help its clients, he said.
We often think about the future. It's something that we want to be able to anticipate in, he said. Where is the market going? How are things going to develop?
We believe we've positioned ourselves in a really great position to continue that growth and continue helping (dealers).
In the past year, Net Driven has more than doubled the size of its software development team to continue to strive to bring innovation.
We are in a better position than we've ever been to deliver innovation, Mr. Sandone said.
Ross McArthur, director of sales and business development in North America at Net Driven, detailed some of the technological projects the company is developing during the firm's inaugural dealer conference in July.
Net Driven recently launched an instant price email function that can connect with a dealership's point-of-sale (POS) system or grab pricing data from whatever vendor a customer uses, Mr. McArthur said.
While Net Driven always had pricing online and eCommercewhere customers can buy tires onlinethe company learned that while these practices fit into some businesses, they do not fit into them all.
This instant price email can fit into many businesses because it can be styled based on the business model.
It also displays the tire, some features and benefits, and it also allows you to create a line item, Mr. McArthur said.
For instance, if a tire dealer offers a free road hazard warranty, it can be implemented right there at the point of sale. It can also integrate manufacturer rebates, he said.
To see more of Ross McArthur's speech at the Net Driven dealer conference, visit www.tirebusiness.com/NetDrivenMcArthur.
Additionally, the system allows the email to be sent to whoever needs to see it, so an owner can keep tabs on what is happening along with various members of the team.
This really gives them (customers) instant gratification, yet keeps some of those things secret so you can make sure you still talk to the customer, Mr. McArthur said.
If a dealership puts prices online, then its competitors can see and monitor them. However, there are customers who will turn away if they cannot get prices right away. This instant price email solves both those issues.
Robert Amenta, president of Modern Tire & Auto Service of Newington, Conn., a five-outlet dealership, told Tire Business that Net Driven is always looking for ways to set their sites apart and we (at Modern Tire) keep pushing them to do so.
They are launching a unique way of providing instant tire quotes to consumers. It will give consumers the instant tire quotes they want while providing us (dealers) with a means to follow up with these customers once they have received the quote.
Mr. McArthur also spoke about a customer testimonial module that Net Driven will be unveiling in the near future.
Many people still say that the best form of marketing is word of mouth, he said, so what we're trying to do is combine that theory of word of mouth...and actually be able to display effectively on (a dealer's) website.
There is a twist to this, Mr. McArthur said, because a dealer can determine whether the review can be posted on the website.
There's a backend to this that allows you to select whether it goes on the website or doesn't, he said.
This way, a dealership doesn't have to worry about displaying negative reviews about its shop. Additionally, the software will divide reviews by location, so if a dealer has multiple locations, customers will be able to differentiate among them.
The big technological change in the last few years has been the interconnectivity of diverse systems, according to Ed Hogan, president of Woburn, Mass.-based Hogan Tire & Auto Service.
On the tire side, many POS (point-of-sale) applications now link directly to tire suppliers for faster and more efficient ordering, he said.
In auto repair, the integration with a labor guide, specifications and parts suppliers has improved efficiencies and the accuracy of quotes and billing, he added.
This has resulted in improved margins and billing accuracy.
The additional information also simplifies the quote process, Mr. Hogan said, which enables salespeople who may not be completely comfortable with auto repair to provide a customer with an exact quote.
Customers now have the Internet in their hands with their smartphones, which has more customers shopping and scheduling service online.
No software product is perfect, he continued.
Sometimes it makes more sense to change the way you do things to use the software as intended.
Other times it may take a suite of products or some customization to get what you need. There is always some give and take.
Although software can aid the operation of a business in many ways, there can still be improvement. Mr. Hogan said he would like to see continued integration of data from various sources into one system.
More knowledge means a better customer experience, he added.
Mr. Hogan is looking forward to the introduction in late 2014 or early 2015 by ASA Automotive Systems Inc.Hogan Tire's software pro-viderof a product with a more powerful POS interface.
Mr. Sandone explained at the Net Driven dealer conference that when working on technology and innovation, there will always be mistakes, but the goal is to not make the same mistake twice.
We want to foster the culture of innovation. If you're not taking risks, if you're not taking chances, (if) you're not making mistakes, then you aren't growing as a company, he said.
And for a technology company, that's the kiss of death, Mr. Sandone added.
Modern Tire's Mr. Amenta agreed that the tire business continues to change and evolve rapidly.
Business sure isn't what (it) was several years ago or even a few years ago. Though, one thing is for sure and that is that it won't be what it is today in another few years, he said.
Technology and access to information are an absolute necessity to operate in today's business environment. The technological advances in cars and consumer transparency fostered by the internet push us to continually seek the best ways to efficiently access information.
Modern Tire uses VAST Retail Enterprise from MAM Software, which Mr. Amenta said seamlessly provides access to parts and labor databases and connectivity to our suppliers all right from our POS screens.
This allows the company to create estimates, check fluid types/capacities and source the needed parts efficiently.
He said that before switching to VAST, the company was using a more tire-specific package that lacked the Windows-based integration that VAST excels at. Looking toward the future, Mr. Amenta said he wants to keep his dealership growing.
I can't say there is any specific software that I wish I had access to. Rather, it is enhancements to current systems that I wish for, he said.
The greatest challenge today is competitively pricing our products, he continued.
A solution that shops the Internet and seamlessly adjusts our pricing based on certain parameters would be a huge plus.
Mr. Amenta said he counts Net Driven as one of his favorite vendors because the company understands the tire industry.
The founder, Pat Sandone, grew up in the tire business and he understands the nuances of our day-to-day business lives, he said.
Couple that with his technological acumen and there is no better choice.
To reach this reporter: [email protected]; 330-865-6143; Twitter@jenniferkarpus.