HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C.What do tire dealers want from training programs? What do consumers want from their tires? And what do tire dealers want from their suppliers as far as product information is concerned?
Three well-known tire retailing professionals answered those questions in the opening program at the 31st annual Clemson University Global Tire Industry Conference at Hilton Head April 15.
For any training to be effective, it has to result in changed behavior that increases the productivity of employees, according to Glen Nicholson, senior director of retail education for TBC Corp. Otherwise, the training just isn't worth it for dealers.
Adults learn differently from children, yet there has been a lot of training based on how we learned in school, Mr. Nicholson said. Adults want training they can apply immediately. If they can't make that connection, they don't tune into it.
You have to show at the beginning how this training will help them in their jobs.
Adults don't need as much direction as children, and want the leeway to do things their way, according to Mr. Nicholson. Yet they want to know how they're doing as the training progresses, and whether they're on the right track, he said.
There are three basic types of learning, according to Mr. Nicholson. They are:
c Auditory (verbal instruction, books, manuals, checklists);
c Visual (videos, demonstrations); and
c Kinesthetic (hands-on training, problem-solving exercises).
Most people have a dominant preference among one of the three types, but respond best to a combination of all three in training courses, Mr. Nicholson said.
Training should be tailored to the needs of the individual employees. Even business owners can benefit from training in inventory management, marketing and pricing strategies and productivity strategies, he said.
They can know everything about sales, but it they don't know inventory management or marketing strategies, they fail, he said. Tire manufacturers are only successful as long as their dealers are successful.
Both tire manufacturers and tire dealers can increase their success by listening to what customers tell them about their tiresand not just listening but asking, said John Evankovich, director of tire and battery center operations at Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s Sam's Club subsidiary.
We need to meet the needs and wants of the consumer, he said. We can see their needs, but their wants are more hidden.
Mileage, snow traction and meeting the driving conditions in different environments are all especially important topics to tire buyers, according to Mr. Evankovich, but it's up to dealers to make sure they know specifically what customers think about their tires.
Consumers don't think about tires if they don't need them, he said.
But if they start slipping and sliding, that changes pretty quickly.
Consumers will tell you what they want, but you have to ask them, and then ask them why.
Having open lines of communication with tire manufacturers is just as important to tire dealers as consumer feedback, according to Mr. Evankovich.
One time there was a good tire that was difficult to mount, he said. For that reason, our associates were reluctant to sell it. I don't know how long it took to transmit that to the manufacturer, but once we did, the problem was corrected.
Another time, Mr. Evankovich recalled fitting a customer with a set of four replacement tires, but as soon as the car reached 35 mph, it started making a horrible noise.
This happened four times, he said. It turned out to be a harmonics issue between that particular tread pattern and that particular vehicle. If we hadn't finally picked up the phone and called the manufacturer, we never would have found out.
The Tire Industry Association (TIA) recently completed a survey of its members as to what informationand in what formthey wanted from their suppliers, said Freda Pratt-Boyer, TIA president, who also serves as senior auditor for Purcell Tire & Rubber Co.
It's important that we have the tools to explain to consumers how their tires will perform, Ms. Pratt-Boyer said.
The survey focused on point-of-sale materials and tools retailers use to educate consumers, she said.
Of the 46 TIA members who responded, most indicated that websites and single-page brochures were most helpful to them in explaining the features of a tire to customers, though tri-fold brochures and mobile apps also had their fans.
Showroom displays also are crucial to dealers, she said. Nothing beats having the product in front of you when you are explaining it.
There are some who want to eliminate the smell of tires from showrooms. That is impossible.
Nearly all the survey respondents stressed the importance of making side-by-side comparisons between the tire on display and comparable tires from other manufacturers, Ms. Pratt-Boyer said.
She quoted several responses regarding this point, including this one: I feel it is the tire retailer's responsibility to educate consumers using the knowledge we've accrued selling multiple brands when it comes to comparing different tires.
Respondents generally said that videos are useful in differentiating performance claims, especially for winter tires, according to Ms. Pratt-Boyer. The problem is devoting enough time to this in a high-volume store.
The tire market is heavily price-driven now, she continued, and dealers appreciate price considerations from manufacturers and distributors now more than ever.
Buying a set of tires is like buying a refrigerator or a washing machine, she said. Tires are a necessity, and price is a major consideration.
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