For a tire company, it is one thing to see new opportunities to help your own customers. It happens all the time in the form of promotions, buying and bonus programs, national and regional advertising, even money to help expand a dealership footprint.
The Nitto Dealer Portal offers many dealer-oriented services, including tire industry news, sales and marketing tools, technical training videos, and a “dealer community forum.”
But it is quite another to recognize a way to help all dealers even those absent from customer rolls and then acting, with no expectation or pressure.
After seeing the opportunity and spending some two years developing its solution, in early March, Nitto Tire USA launched a “dealer-specific destination that will help all businesses from ‘mom and pop’ independents to national chains and everything in between.”
In the simplest form, Nitto Dealer Portal (nitto-dealerportal.com
) is a website offering a wide range of dealer-oriented services, like tire industry news (supplied by an RSS feed from Tire Review), sales and marketing tools, technical training videos, and a “dealer community forum” where users can trade ideas, ask questions, gather opinions and input, or even vent a little on business issues.
But the Dealer Portal also brings two key free services to the table. One is its Website Builder tool to help dealers create professional-looking, functional websites that are hosted free-of-charge. That service alone will save a dealer the monthly site hosting fees and costs associated with website development.
The second major tool is the Customer Database, another free service that helps dealers track customers and their purchase activities, as well as provides service interval reminders via email and text.
“We hope the site becomes a go-to resource for dealers to learn and communicate with suppliers, customers and each other through a special dealer community forum,” the tiremaker said.
“In many of our visits to various retailers and tire shops across the country, we noticed a very common trend,” said Gloria Miyamoto, marketing manager.
“Many independent dealers still don’t have a website or a sophisticated customer relationship management system,” Miyamoto noted. “Whether it be through our product or other means, Nitto has always been a company that brings added value to our customers. Seeing the trend, Nitto wanted to create an online tool that addresses the challenges our retailers were having in communicating with the modern consumer.”
As it turned out, the investigation and research was the easy part of the process. The Dealer Portal was conceived in 2009, and a prototype was shown at the 2009 SEMA Show. Still, it wasn’t until the 2011 SEMA Show that the Dealer Portal was in its final form.
“Developing an online program or software is a very time consuming process,” Miyamoto reminded. “Many repeated stages of testing and tuning are required to deliver a properly functioning program.”
As Nitto was busy with the physical development, the tiremaker also was surveying and talking to dealers to “see exactly what the needed core functions of the program should be,” Miyamoto said.
The bottom line for dealers was to have the tools necessary to stay ahead of the technology curve not so much in their stores, but with how their customers were researching and shopping for tires.
Dealers can select from three different template designs offered on the portal, and then choose which eight core sections they want included on their shop’s website.
“Today’s consumer is very heavily dependent on mobile devices,” Miyamoto said. “Advances in mobile hardware and apps enable consumers to research and shop literally on the go. And that trend is only growing. In the 2011 holiday season, mobile shopping doubled over the previous year to account for 10% of all transactions.
“In our industry, where the retail realm is still predominantly in the brick and mortar form, dealers need tools to stay relevant in the changing consumer landscape,” she said. “This is why we’ve included a basic CRM system for dealers to connect directly with customers through their mobile devices and email.”
Capturing buyer attention when they aren’t on the go takes a solid website, a shortcoming for many dealers, Nitto found. Hence the available website building tool on the Dealer Portal.
“Many tire retailers we visited across the country did not have a website, and some of those that did had a website that was unattractive and outdated,” Miyamoto said. “The Dealer Portal offers website templates that each store can customize to publish its own unique website.”
Within the website design section, dealers can choose from three different design themes to set the basic look of their website, she said. From there, they can choose to include eight core sections to their website Homepage, About Us, Our Services, Our Products, Tire Tech, Special Offers, Gallery, Contact Us and each of the eight can be further customized to include images and copy of the dealer’s choice.
By making the entire process template-based, “it enables dealers who are inexperienced in web design to create a professional-looking website that offers core functions that all business websites should have,” she said.
Best of all for dealers, the websites created on the Dealer Portal are completely free and are hosted for free on Nitto’s own servers, saving them in monthly site hosting fees and upkeep.
Education is another key feature of the Nitto Dealer Portal, addressed by the presence of a series of product training videos and the Discussion Forum section.
The sole objective of the Discussion Forum is to create a knowledge pool, so dealers and their staffs can leverage a vast knowledge network, Miyamoto said. “We hope that the conversations within the forum will continue to grow, and ultimately become a continuously growing community.
“There’s a wealth of information in online communities,” she added. “The Dealer Portal aims to create an exclusive online community for tire dealers where they can get together to discuss technical information such as tire fitments, popular aftermarket trends and service tips that they’ve learned in their individual stores.”
There also are Nitto brand video training courses on the Dealer Portal, and participating dealers can complete these courses to earn points that can be redeemed for Nitto-badged wearables, POS materials or even gift cards. The training modules will be updated as new products are rolled out.
Participating in the training isn’t the only way to earn points.
“Whether it is a store creating its first website, or joining in on discussions on the forums, or using the database to send out service reminders, or completing a training session, the Dealer Portal will grant points for each task,” Miyamoto said. This helps build loyalty, to be sure, but also serves as a way to keep dealers engaged in improving their businesses.
So why go to the trouble and expense for something that is not directly aimed at selling more tires? “We pursued this project because we want to establish Nitto as a trusted brand by our retailers,” Miyamoto said.
“We strongly believe this is a tool that will work for any tire retailer. And when the Portal is proven to deliver great results, we foresee that even the tire dealers that do not carry Nitto products will join us.”