Q: Did the pandemic affect your expansion plans?
A: Both of our greenfield projects were well into development when the pandemic hit, but we had no plans of slowing down.
Luckily, we were considered an essential business in Florida, and we were able to get some assistance from the federal government to keep everyone employed and all of our stores operating. We actually opened our Arlington location Aug. 1 in the middle of the pandemic and have hit the ground running.
We decided early on to be prepared for the worst but pivot and adapt to the new "normal" and continue to move forward and focus on sales and the safety of our employees and customers. One of these pivots was the introduction of our mobile tire service and the contact-free approach to installation.
Q: With fluctuating demand this year, are you keeping more or less inventory?
A: Demand has definitely fluctuated this year, but with the pandemic and the recent tariffs, fill rates have been at an all-time low. So early on we took a combative approach and brought in as many popular sizes as possible and also expanded the brands we carried to supplement the shortages. We stocked up, and it has paid off.
You can't sell something you don't have, so we took every effort to get the units on the floor.
Q: As consumers are trending toward doing more business online, have you seen an increase in online tire sales and/or appointments?
A: Year-over-year our online presence has grown. We are processing more online appointments than ever before. We are always looking at adding new tools to our site (tireoutlet.com) and making it as consumer-friendly as possible. Our online sales are an integral part of our daily business, and it continues to grow daily.
Our stores are certified installers for several online retailers in the e-commerce space. We view these relationships as lead generators and have been beneficial to our company. Once they're in our shops, we do a free 27-point inspection and offer a discount for services the next time they return.
Q: Why start mobile tire service, and what have you learned?
A: We pulled the trigger on our mobile installation van after the SEMA Show in 2019. We had been developing a plan of action for a while, but after the show, we decided it was time to move forward.
At the time, there weren't any other companies in our market doing mobile installs, so it was the logical next step. It took close to six months for the van to be outfitted, and we were able to put it in service in April.
It has been very successful, and we plan on adding more units to our fleet in 2021. This will help expand our footprint in Northeast Florida and service more ZIP codes.
In the beginning, the challenges we faced were easily addressed — such as having everything necessary to complete the job on the truck. When you're in the field you don't have a whole shop to fall back on with many toolboxes and experienced technicians to help out. We also learned quickly that you have to limit your service area because driving time is just a waste of money.
Q: Often, customers need more service to their vehicle than they realize. How are mobile techs dealing with those issues?
A: Since we are in the infancy stage of our mobile install van, we are limiting the services to tire mounting and balancing. Our tech does a brief safety inspection of the vehicle on-site, notating everything on the invoice. If there is an immediate concern, we convey it to the customer and try to set an appointment onsite to schedule them at one of our retail store locations.
All of our mobile customers also receive a discount for an alignment at any of our locations when purchasing tires.
In the very near future, we hope to expand our mobile services to other preventative-maintenance items such as onsite oil changes and full vehicle inspections.
Q: Does it take a special type of tech to run a service van?
A: It takes a well-rounded technician that has the experience to deal with any situation that may arise. Remember, you are out in the field without a shop of peers to back you up, so a seasoned veteran technician is definitely preferred. It was very important to us that this technician was also clean-cut, as he would be representing our company at customers' homes or offices.
Q: Across your business, how are you finding and retaining technicians?
A: There is definitely a shortage of technicians in the industry, and finding a good one is few and far between. We have had to adapt and begin grooming inexperienced technicians and train them for the future growth and expansion we anticipate for our business.
In the past few years, we have invested more in training new hires and supporting current staff through continuing education. It is our hope that by mid-2021 we will have an in-house tech school to help with this void in the industry.
Q: What's the future for Tire Outlet look like?
A: Tire Outlet has high hopes for 2021, and we will continue to grow. We will be opening a new store in Q1, with two more in planning. We are also committed to focusing on expanding our mobile fleet and a new tech school.
We believe sales will continue to grow and with that so will our employees.
Tire Outlet is already deeply involved with the community, and we hope, as the pandemic winds down, we will be able to get more involved in 2021.