ORLANDO, Fla.Selling tires online can be a nerve-racking subject for a tire dealer, not to mention customers.
With many online retailers selling directly to the consumer and Good-year's recent announcement that it will do the same, tire dealers may be missing out on some opportunities.
Timothy Shaffer, founder and CEO of Tire Consumer L.L.C., built his TireConsumer.com website to combat this direct-to-consumer online trend so tire dealers can play in this arena for more than just an installation sale.
His goal is to make the tire business more user-friendly for consumers because when customers go to shop for tires, it's really difficult, Mr. Shaffer told Tire Business.
Before TireConsumer.com was created, if a consumer wanted information about a tire, they'd likely have to visit various websites for comparison shopping, he said, or go to a tire shop and speak to a tire retailer. Still, there was no guarantee they were getting the best deal.
TireConsumer.com's aim is to be a website where consumers can research tires, compare prices and information, then decide whether to make a purchase and from where. Instead of buying the tires on the website, however, the consumer is directed to local tire dealerships that carry what they're looking for.
This lets consumers shop from the convenience of their homes, but gives the unit sale to the tire dealer.
They (consumers) can make that selection with no pressure and it builds confidence in them because they've already seen the prices, and then they get to lock in their price and send it to their tire retailer of choice, Mr. Shaffer said.
This means the dealer would get the tire sale, not an online retailer.
Having this system where consumers can still purchase onlinebut from a tire dealermakes it fair, he said and combats strictly online tire retailers while making the process more user-friendly for customers.
This seems to be just a perfect fit for them, Mr. Shaffer said.
Although currently the service is free for dealers, Mr. Shaffer said he does foresee eventually having certain charges for referrals and/or the back-office functionality TireConsum-er.com offers. For now, the website needs to be able to prove the data to tire dealers before focusing on different pricing models, he said, adding that nothing solid has been determined because the company needs to first compile data on which to base any kind of pricing structure.
TireConsumer.com recently went live after eight months in building and beta testing. The Orlando-based company has added data from tire retailers throughout all major markets in Florida. The company will be expanding and adding Texas locations into its system within one month, Mr. Shaffer said, and then move onto California after that. Once those three major markets are tackled, it will continue to expand into other states.
Feedback was phenomenal, and from speaking to tire retailers we are having (a) positive impact on their business, generating new sales and customers with no effort on the tire retailers' part, he said.
Consumer feedback has been positive as well, he added, with more sales than the company initially expected and the feedback has been unanimously positive.
Within the first week, TireConsumer.com had tens of thousands of hits, Mr. Shaffer said.
For an audio component to this story, visit www.tirebusiness.com/TireConsumer
This is without doubt a solution tire buyers have been looking for. We are optimizing our campaigns, making them even more effective. We will be launching several social media campaigns in the next few weeks as well.
The program also is user-friendly for a tire dealer, he said, with multiple-level back office support available that tracks when reservations for orders are made.
It will be able to do that from the store level all the way up to the corporate level. They'll be able to update their prices...daily if they want to or hourly. It's really that user-friendly, he said.
Asked whether he could provide the names of some tire dealerships using TireConsumer.com, Mr. Shaffer told Tire Business that since the firm has just finished its beta testing, it's too soon to gauge users' reactions.
He said the biggest thing that we want to do is we want to take care of the consumer and make it easier for themand take care of the retailer to get that consumer to that retailer in the local markets.
The process is simple for the tire dealer, taking no more than 30 minutes to import a company's information into the TireConsumer.com system, no matter the size of the business.
From the initial tire retailers TireConsumer.com reached out to, Mr. Shaffer said about 25 percent have signed up and the firm is still working with the remaining 75 percent.
At this time no one has turned us down, he said.
We have been in the process of collecting data to show them the value and that process is going very well. This is a change to typical advertising and we are new as well.
I believe the transparency piece is a big one, however I believe retailers can show consumers confidence in their brand by being transparent. That will build confidence in the consumers and their purchases.
Embracing transparency is a good thing, Mr. Shaffer continued. We are very excited about the future and our initial launch has shown us the validity of the Tire Consumer idea.
Dealers are experts at taking care of customers, he said, and the tire-selling process is all about human interaction.
The computer should complement the process not take parts of it away, he added.
To reach this reporter: [email protected]; 330-865-6143; Twitter: @jenniferkarpus