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Tire Dealers Find Success With Mobile Apps

August 10, 2011
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These days, "going mobile" requires more than a good set of tires.

Mobile web technology is one of the newest necessities of any progressive business. And savvy tire dealers are jumping on the mobile bandwagon as quickly as phone-based text messages are surpassing computer-based e-mail as a form of communication.
Dealer apps provide directions to stores and store contact information, allow tire look-up, deliver coupons and even let users make tire or service appointments.

After all, cell phones are everywhere, and smartphones are quickly supplanting flips. The world clearly is making e-commerce movable, drifting away from stationary computers, let alone stationary phones. So the development of an application, or “app,” for iPhones, Androids or BlackBerrys is one of the best new ways to bring in business from virtually any location, at virtually any time, with just the tap of a smart phone screen.

There are, on a bigger scale, mobile-optimized websites, as well. But many users and experts say that mobile apps are more user-friendly in their simplicity. And while some apps exist simply to make money – the ones sold specifically to generate income, or to promote advertising, subscriptions and “in-app purchases” – the types currently used by tire dealerships usually focus on branding, customer service or marketing.

These apps typically are free to the user, as they’re intended to reach as many people as possible. So, getting customers to download them is as simple as letting smartphone users know the apps exist. The primary limitation is that many such apps are developed specifically for iPhones, leaving potential app use on popular Android or BlackBerry smartphones dependent on the creator’s willingness to develop entirely separate “platforms” for them. That could mean tripling the cost.

While some mobile web-design companies charge as much as $30,000 for the development of business apps, tire dealers and other business owners are finding ways to implement them for considerably less, ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. The options run the gamut from professional development, to student-based help, to do-it-yourself ventures. After all, Google “creating apps” and dozens of sites appear, enticing searchers to develop their own smart-phone applications “in seconds.”

Tire Review found four tire dealers who enthusiastically say, “there’s an app for that!” They are Chris Tolleson of 49 Tire and Auto Service in Richland, Miss.; Mike Upton of Upton Tire Pros in Jackson, Miss.; Scott Zimmerman of Scotty’s Tire and Automotive in Kenner, La.; and Alpio Barbara of Redwood General Tire in Redwood City, Calif. We spoke to them about their journeys in “going mobile.” And of course, feel free to check out their business’s apps.

What exactly does your dealership’s app do?
Tolleson: It allows you to book appointments and it will one-touch-call our business. It takes you to our website to see our tire lines and, most importantly, allows the customer to see our coupons. No more clipping or printing coupons. Just show them to us on your phone.

Upton: From our app, you can view our web coupons, locate and get GPS directions to our stores, get phone numbers, learn a little bit about us, get a tire quote and, most successfully, book an appointment on our self-designed booking site. This has been a huge success.

Zimmerman: Our app allows customers to get directions to our location, call us, make appointments to get their cars serviced, get coupons, and the app will take the customer directly to our website.

Barbara: Our iPhone app makes appointments, and you can get a quote and learn something about us. We have coupons and monthly specials, and it gives you directions. You can call us and send us an e-mail, too.

Is it for iPhone only, or also for Android or BlackBerry?
Tolleson: Right now it’s iPhone only. The price to do BlackBerry and an iPad app was an extra $699.

Upton: It was first designed for the iPhone, and then we created one for Android.

Zimmerman: For the time being the app is only for iPhone and iPad, and we’re creating an app for Android.

Barbara: It’s for the iPhone at this time.

How much did your app cost?
Tolleson: $399 for three years.

Upton: Roughly, both cost about $3,000, but that was a ground-floor deal and I suspect it’s higher now.

Zimmerman: $750

Barbara: It cost around $3,500.
 
Why did you decide to create the app?
Tolleson: We started it in spring 2010. I was at a restaurant and saw that they had an app. You could make reservations and view their menu, and I thought that would be great for our business.

Upton: We consider ourselves leaders in our area, not only in new technology for repairing vehicles but also in reaching our customers in ways that are convenient to their lifestyle.

Zimmerman: I decided to create an app for my business because I see so many people using apps, and I thought by having my own it would put my business a step above the rest.

Barbara: Another tire store in Mississippi had one and told me about it. A college kid helped him with it.
 
How did you go about the process?
Tolleson: I talked to several companies, and they were talking about $1,500 or $2,000 to build an app. Several companies just didn’t get it. So on a rainy Sunday afternoon I Googled “Build an iPhone App.” Thirty minutes later, I had an app.

Upton: We contacted a local restaurant owner who had one developed for his three restaurants and was given the name of his developer, who actually was a college student doing this on the side.

Zimmerman: I contacted a friend of mine at Nolagraph Productions who creates websites and asked if he could create an app for my business.

Barbara: It was done by phone, with Apple’s approval.
 
How long did it take?
Tolleson: Thirty minutes.

Upton: From start to finish, it took about two months, but I suspect that term would be shorter now that this has become so common.

Zimmerman: Two weeks.

Barbara: Three to four months.
 
Were you personally involved in its creation?
Upton: I was involved, and having an iPhone, I knew its capabilities. So, along with my marketing firm for the graphics and this young developer, we designed the app. I hear this a lot: “That’s cool! You have an iPhone app!”

Tolleson, Zimmerman, Barbara: Yes.
 
What benefits do you expect? Which have you already seen?
Tolleson: I hoped that every customer with an iPhone would download and use it. We promoted it on billboards and on the radio. It has worked well. People download it at the sales counter all the time to get a coupon. I love the fact that my logo is on their phone.

Upton: We had designed this online booking system and I felt this would be a natural fit for that customer. It has been a huge success.

Zimmerman: I expected customers to think it was cool for my business to have an app. I wanted to make it convenient for customers to get in touch with us, and I want my logo on all of my customers’ phones and iPads. The benefits we’ve already seen are customers bringing coupons and making appointments to get their cars serviced.

Barbara: The benefit is that the customer can click on our logo or app and our screen pops up. You can just hit the phone and it will call us. No searching is needed. Plus, you can get an e-mail or price quote and do it at your own pace, and at your desk or home.
 
What other matters do you consider relevant?
Tolleson: This is just another great tool to have in your business. It works well with our website, our online appointment system, and our other marketing programs like Facebook. People want and expect an easy way to do business with us and the iPhone app does that.

Upton: While the app is not going to make you rich, it puts you ahead of your competition on several levels and makes the inconvenient more convenient for your customers. There is a small window of opportunity here, though, so if you’re thinking about it, I’d do it now before the market is flooded. It’s good to be first in the market.

Barbara: I think having my own app adds a lot of class to my store. The only problem I see is getting a customer or future customer to download it. But don’t forget, it’s free!


Better Retail Marketing Using Mobile Barcodes
To the naked eye they’re incomprehensible – strange little boxes filled with a seemingly random pattern of either color triangles or black and white squares that could be a crossword puzzle on steroids – but they are showing up with increasing frequency in magazine ads, on billboards, on soup mix packages or anywhere products are being advertised or sold.

That’s because when consumers scan the squares with app-equipped smart­phones, such as the iPhone or And­roid OS phones, they’re transported to a world of information and salesmanship that could never fit on even the best-designed product label.

Known as “mobile barcodes” or “2D barcodes,” they’re the latest variant of iconic vertical line barcodes that have been around for decades. The new code contains a link that jumps a smartphone to a website, where the consumer can learn far more about a product or company.

It’s also an effective way for a static marketing piece, such as a postcard, sign or magazine ad, to “come to life” through video on the website.

Endless Possibilities
“The possibilities are endless,” said David Custer, marketing executive with food producer Country Home Creations, which recently began using the codes. “We can’t fit everything we want to fit on our labels. But with mobile barcodes we can supply as much information as possible, from recipes to reviews. I can link shoppers immediately to what other people are saying about our product. Testimony is the best marketing.”

Custer has been putting the 2D barcodes on Country Home Creations labels since the beginning of the year in an effort to better get the word out about the company’s dip mixes, soup mixes and gourmet food. The company sells the products to consumers via its website and ships them wholesale to more than 1,000 stores nationwide.

Custer said he first learned of the codes while visiting his brother in Washington, D.C., and immediately realized their usefulness.

“I thought, ‘How cool would it be if somebody could scan our product with their phone and see things that we can’t fit on our product label?’” he said.

AT&T, which provides smartphone users with one type of free code scanner at http://scan.mobi, suggests several ways retailers can use mobile barcodes:

 • A shelf card beneath product could link to a 90-second digital video demo
 • A billboard could link to a GPS-enabled map, directing drivers to the location
 • A magazine or newspaper ad could allow for the loading of an e-coupon, plus a pass-along text for friends

Creating Code
Right now there are two formats of mobile barcodes: QR codes and Microsoft tags. QR codes use the black/white squares, and Microsoft tags use color triangles. To create codes or tags, there are free programs online.

Custer said customers, especially the tech-savvy young­er generation, are becoming more aware of them.

“People who use an iPhone are very familiar with what these are,” he said.

Doing price comparisons, checking for product reviews and receiving special offers are the three biggest reasons consumers use their phones to check barcodes, according to a survey by New York-based Scanbury, which provides technology to read the codes.

Eighty-one percent of respondents said they used the technology to check prices, while 63% reported they looked for special offers.

According to Scanbury’s survey, an estimated 30% to 40% of smartphone users have downloaded a barcode scanning application, and 97% of mobile barcode users find them useful. On average, each user scans two to three barcodes a month, Scanbury found.

The age group doing the most scanning is the 35 to 44 demographic, which accounts for 30% of users, followed by the 25 to 34 group, which includes 25% of users. Men currently make up 70% of the scanning population.

- Courtesy of Michigan Retailer, the official publication of the Michigan Retailers Association