In the age of automation, self-driving vehicles and artificial intelligence, it's comforting to know that one thing still matters: That personal touch.
Late last month, our automotive service expert, Dan Marinucci, spent an hour discussing that point in our latest livestream event, entitled "Service Sales Skills Computers Cannot Perform." (For those of you who may have missed it, it is archived online.)
Mr. Marinucci emphasized that good, old-fashioned human interaction — greeting people warmly, assessing the vehicle's condition, identifying the customer's need and prioritizing repairs and maintenance in a credible and emphatic way — builds a foundation for success for the independent tire and auto service shop operator.
That same human interaction is tantamount to the success of selling mud-terrain tires, too.
Those in the tire manufacturing sector — who are on the front lines of reacting to and developing products to satisfy consumer needs — advise dealers they must talk with a customer who enters their shop looking to buy mud-terrain tires, a relatively small but growing segment of the burgeoning light truck tire segment.
Dealers, they say, must ask consumers exactly what they are seeking before recommending a mud-terrain product.
Terry Smouter, director of sales management for Hankook Tire America Corp., offered some questions: "Is this to look good and look aggressive out on the road, on the pavement? Or are you really looking for something that's really going to perform in the rocks and in the dirt, in the snow, in the mud, whatever it might be?"
The price (and margin) of mud-terrain tires is high, and that last thing dealers should do is sell the consumer the wrong product.
"We suggest to really drill down and find out what this user is actually going to use this tire for, and this helps them get into the right tire," Mr. Smouter said.
Some customers are drawn to the most rugged, aggressive-looking tire, even though they have little intention of taking that vehicle off-road. That's why, experts say, it is imperative to explain the difference between an M/T tire and an all-terrain tire, including the compromises of an M/T tire regarding noise, comfort and tread life.
Dealers should know that M/T customers want to engage in a conversation about their tires.
Brandon Sturgis, product manager for Michelin North America's BFGoodrich off-road tires, said consumers "typically want to know more about the tires than your general tire consumer. And so the more a tire dealer can explain to this consumer, the more you're going to win that person as a customer."
Drew Howlett, Falken Tire Corp.'s product manager for light trucks/SUV products, suggests dealers go one step farther: Test the M/T tires they are selling.
"Because there is such a wide range of performances between all the mud-terrain tires on the market, things like noise and ride comfort, durability, ... I would encourage the dealers to have a first-hand experience with the tire that they sell or with the tire that they recommend," he said.
It's also incumbent upon a dealer to explain the importance of maintaining their investment. Encourage the customer to return for tire rotations — recommended for the first time at 4,000 miles — and alignments.
Travis Roffler, director of marketing for Continental Tire the Americas, reminds dealers: "If (the tires) develop an irregular wear pattern, it is sometimes irreversible."
Don't overlook the importance of interacting with customers. It's a conversation worth having — both with staff and customers.
"Typically the people who buy mud-terrain tires are enthusiasts, and so they want to know a lot about the features and benefits of the tires,"
As auto makers move toward eliminating most sedans from their lineup in order to make room for light trucks, SUVs and CUVs, the LT tire market figures to become a larger share for a tire dealer moving forward. That share is significant today: 30% or above, according to some of the dealers we spoke to for a story in this issue.