Getting started in the off-road segment can be a challenge for consumers. Not only are off-road parts often much more expensive than their passenger vehicle counterparts, the stresses and requirements placed on the vehicle can vary significantly depending on the application. This represents both a challenge and an opportunity for dealers serving that niche market. When working with off-road enthusiasts, satisfying the customer’s need for information is just as important as performing maintenance and installing parts.
With a market that is always in flux, even knowledgeable consumers can benefit from a partnership with a trusted dealer that can provide answers to questions that the customer may not even know to ask. Tire Review asked Will Robbins, product manager for Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations, and Paul Fessel, global light duty aftermarket channel manager for Firestone Industrial Products, about what they see as the keys to finding success in the off-road segment, or improving on an already established position in the market.
According to Robbins and Fessel, creating partnerships with customers is key to selling in the off-road market, which often means proactively offering services the customer didn’t know he or she needed. Here are some of their keys for identifying those services:
Build a Partnership with the Customer
Off-road is as much a lifestyle as a market segment; customers choose to be a part of it. By looking past the one-time sale and allowing the shop to be an integral part of the customer’s hobby, the door will be wide open for a long and fruitful relationship.
Understand What They Need
There is a major difference between the performance requirements of an occasional camper versus a hard-core off-road racer. Understanding the vehicle’s intended use allows the dealer to sell the customer the right product for the task at hand.
Inspect the Vehicle
Sometimes the customer doesn’t know what he or she doesn’t know. That’s where the professionals come in. The condition of the vehicle can sometimes tell more about it’s usage than the customer’s words ever could. Finding the little details that help to paint a more complete picture of vehicle usage can get the dealer out in front and give the customer what they need – even before they know they need it.
- A well-worn hitch can indicate that the vehicle is frequently pulling heavy loads.
- Wear marks on the leaf springs or axle can mean that the suspension is being over-loaded.
- If the front tires are wearing oddly, it may be that the front end is cambering out due to the nose of the vehicle being pulled up from pulling an especially heavy load.
Certain aftermarket accessories on the vehicle, like auxiliary transmission coolers, can indicate a committed off-roader – and a higher than average use cycle.
Ask Probing Questions
“What do you use this vehicle for?” is a fine starting point, but inquiring about driving dynamics or exploits from a recent off-road trip can give a fuller picture of how the vehicle is being used, and what issues might need to be addressed. For instance, asking the driver if he or she is being flashed by passing vehicles might mean that the load being pulled is too heavy, causing the front end to be pushed up, blinding other drivers. Look for clues to help.
Get the Right Equipment
While Fessel and Robbins have seen a trend toward ease of installation (such as no-drill suspension kits), the sheer sizes of the vehicles and equipment involved require a certain level of equipment investment. Large-diameter wheels may be too wide for standard tire changers. Conventional scissor lifts often can’t extend high enough to reach the jack points on vehicles with higher suspension kits. Invest in the equipment you need to provide the best quality work.
Track the Tire Rotation
With many off-road vehicles carrying one or more full-sized spares, performing and tracking tire rotation can be a challenge. Utilizing one spare in a five-tire rotation pattern isn’t too much more challenging than working with four tires, but a six-tire rotation scheme can be a bit more complicated. Tracking rotations can do wonders for balancing out the accelerated wear on off-road tires, and can help keep customers out where they’re happiest – out of the shop and onto the trails.