Here’s something you may not know: American consumers spent $46.2 billion on tires and other auto accessories in 2002, the last year in which the U.S. Bureau of Economics has accurate numbers.
That figure may sound impressive, but the Bureau also reported that Americans spent even more than that on shoes.
The point: Don’t take a back seat to a pair of Guccis.
Tires are your livelihood, and selling them defines who you are and how your life progresses. And better sales begin the domino effect of better profits and greater stability.
To help you experience the pleasant chain reaction that comes with increasing your sales, we’ve outlined 10 easy ways you can build sales without breaking the bank – or your back.
One: Make Friends With Customers
Be “customer-centric.” That’s a big corporate word that really means being totally focused on taking care of the customers you already have. Don’t lose them. We already know it takes more money to attract a new customer than it does to hold onto an old one.
So, how do you keep ‘em coming back? The answer is simple in theory but sometimes complicated in practice. First, maintain a nurturing, trusting environment. Devote your time to thinking about your customers’ needs and sell based on those needs. Don’t force sales down their throats; take care of their vehicles and replace worn out parts when needed. Don’t overwork it. Incremental business – such as sales of brakes, bearings, balancing and alignment – should naturally occur in a trusting environment.
Understand some basics of human psychology. You don’t have to be a therapist or Ph.D. to make an impact in the minds of your customers. For instance, make it a point to address customers by name. No sound is sweeter to a person than the sound of his or her own name, especially when spoken in a commercial environment. Customers today want a personal touch.
Another effective way to reach out to your best customers is to develop a “hot list” of those patrons who do the most business with you. Use this list to send them a mailing with a special offer. And you should sign the letter personally. By the way, don’t send it to “Resident.” Put the customer’s name on the mailing.
What’s the best way to prevent the big boxers from stealing your best customers? Offer the same for less and more for the same. Once in a while, give something away. Watch the expression on a customer’s face when you repair his or her tire for free (the right way, by the way). Offering freebies once in a while won’t break your bank. But it will leave a positive impact with the customer. And chances are that customer will tell friends. See what happens when you do the unexpected.
Don’t feel that you have to shave prices to compete with the big boys. That strategy only works for a few days, and your goal should be long-term business. When it comes to pricing, you really only need to be competitive. In fact, you don’t – or shouldn’t – want a reputation as the cheapest joint in town. Another truism of psychology is that people perceive cost as being indicative of value. Translation: You get what you pay for.
Customers have stopped trusting retailers the way they once did. The good news is that it doesn’t take much effort to renew their faith. If new tires are needed, put them on. But don’t put on new brakes if they’re not needed. When you spare a customer a large bill but pick up incremental business later, you are building trust and a beefed-up bottom line.
And, it’s worth mentioning that the trust factor is even more important to keeping your women customers, who now make up more than 65% of your total replacement tire customer base, according to most estimates.
So, the moral of the story: Offer a good product at a fair price, and pay extra-special attention to your customers.
Two: Amplify Your Strengths
Most people know how to correct their weaknesses, but how many people know how to amplify their strengths?
Tiger Woods’ strengths are his long game and putting skills. But his ability to chip out of a bunker can be inconsistent. The message here is that you don’t have to be strong in every single aspect of what you do. You just have to recognize the areas in which you are exceptionally strong and amplify them so that everyone knows it.
Contrary to popular belief, you won’t excel by fixing your weaknesses. You succeed by maximizing your strengths. We’re not telling you to ignore your faults; rather, find a way to manage your life around them while you continue to do well in other areas.
This lesson applies equally well to your staff as it does to you. Take a look around your tire outlet. Is there an average technician with above-average sales skills? Move that tech into sales. He will perhaps like his job better because he’s good at it. And there’s a good chance he will make a bigger contribution to profits in his new role.
Did you know that eight out of 10 people feel unfulfilled in their jobs? Perhaps that’s because they’re not effectively using their strengths and, as a result, don’t feel they’re good at what they do.
Three: Practice the Art of Communication
You have many audiences out there – from the teenager next door to the mayor, the head librarian and even your own employees – and you have to reach them all.
If you can’t afford to advertise, call the editor of a local paper and tell him or her that you have a story worth telling. Tell the editor that you are an independent tire dealer doing business against the goliaths of retailing and that you can do a better, more cost-effective job.
Alternatively, put together a short press release on a positive aspect of your business. For instance, if you just gave a $100 check to a Little League baseball team, take a picture, write a caption and jot down a few words about your donation. You’ve just created a press release that you can send to the local papers.
Or, try the divide-and-conquer strategy. The next time you work on a custom car, ask the owner if he or she will permit you to show it in your parking lot for a few days. Motorists passing your tire store will see it and remember it. On another day, visit the mayor of your town to discuss municipal growth issues, and leave your business card. Go to the library and check out some marketing books. While you’re there, chat briefly with the librarian, and leave your business card.
Communicating with your employees is just as important as communicating with your customers. Don’t keep your staff in the dark. Tell them what’s on your mind – good or bad. Give them a sense of ownership in the business. Make sure they communicate with you, as well. Encourage coffee breaks with your employees before the start of each day, and listen to what they have to say. Often, an employee will have a great idea but is just afraid to bring it up. Let your employees know that there is no such thing as a bad idea. And, if you have something to add, make sure you communicate clearly.
Four: Leverage ‘Family Feel’
That “hometown family feel” is something the mass merchants will never have. Make sure your dealership is a friendly place, full of professional hospitality. Put the family name on your signage, service trucks and business cards.
Loyalty will develop. And those loyal customers will feel a bond with your business. After all, most of your customers go to the same barber or stylist, dentist, doctor and church for years. People don’t like change. In other words, consistent, professional, warm treatment by you and your staff will yield a strong customer core that is likely to remain loyal.
Five: Set Priorities
Start looking at the obvious. If a 55-year-old customer pulls into your lot in a Ford Focus that is driven daily as a commuter car, direct that customer to one or two tire choices you feel will work best. You might recommend a major-brand, high-mileage, all-season, OE-type replacement or similar private brand product. With this customer, forget about speed ratings. Instead, talk about price, warranty and traction in the wet or snow. It works the opposite way if a 25-year old cruises into your lot with a tuner or sports car.
Think about turning your organization upside down. Create an organizational chart that looks like an inverted triangle. Put your customers on top, at the widest area of the triangle. You, the owner of the shop, are at the bottom, at the pointed end. Right below customers, write in your sales and sales support people, followed by your techs and store managers.
This is how a sales-strong business should be focused – customer first, owner last and everything focused upward. Take care of customers – and your employees – and they will take care of you.
And don’t be afraid to set tough goals for your techs and salespeople. If they meet their targets, give them a cash incentive. If they don’t hit the mark, they don’t get a bonus. After all, your employees will work harder to make you money if they get a piece of the pie, too.
Six: Brand Yourself
We’re not talking about hot irons. We’re talking about creating the brand that is you. You are either distinct or extinct, in the spotlight or in the dark. Make your business unique. More importantly, make sure your customers, prospects and employees know and understand what you and your company are all about. That’s how you develop a sustainable brand, not with some half-baked “We’ll never be undersold” slogan or cheesy TV ad.
And, never stop moving. Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there. Look forward. Be excited about your skills and obsessed with reaching your goals.
Back in 1934, F.A. Seiberling testified before the Federal Trade Commission and said, “The mass distributor will spell the doom of independent tire dealers.” That was nearly three quarters of a century ago, and plenty of you are still around. Why? Because of the unique attributes of community-based business, established by branding.
Let your customers know that you are different from the big guys. Show them you care. Customers will identify with “the little guy” if your pitch is on target. And studies show they are often more comfortable buying from local businesses than impersonal chain stores.
By branding yourself, you reinvent your business vitality. You send a message to your community that you are in business to serve and to lead.
Be a newsmaker and a frontrunner. Being proactive about your business is more rewarding for you in the long run, and your customers will respect you for it. Everyone loves a winner. Increased sales always seem to follow the leader.
Seven: Give Something Back
Your customers mean everything to your success, so giving something back should be a natural. Be involved, whether through charitable donations or time and/or money or involvement in local groups or taking a leadership role in a community improvement effort. There are plenty of ways to leave a positive mark.
Become a member of the Salvation Army board. Join a community organization. Volunteer. Consider a coats-for-kids drop off in the winter. Help erect a memorial to an important figure in your town. Donate food to the local food bank. After all, word of mouth is the best form of advertising. And giving back to the community doesn’t cost much more than time.
And, by lending your name, time and goodwill to the community, you distance yourself from your competition and enhance your standing. Make sure people remember you.
Eight: Keep It Simple
Stick to the basics. Know the fundamentals. The KISS principle. Fundamentals must be at the core of everything you do. Keep your techs well trained and have the newest equipment. Don’t get customers’ cars dirty. Tell customers you want to hear from them if something seems wrong. Stand behind what you sell and your business principles. That, too, is basic.
For Vince Lombardi, the coach of the Green Bay Packers in the 1960s, winning was the only thing. The word “losing” stuck in his craw.
To Lombardi, there was only one absolute – a total commitment to appreciating the value of the basics. He believed that overly intricate strategy only interfered with the challenge of the game. His strategy was uncomplicated: Take simple plays and crunch straight through opponents on the strength of superior execution and desire.
But following the basics isn’t always easy. Basics can sometimes be difficult to execute because they seem too simple to be important.
Here’s a good example of that point: the condition of your shop. You may not have noticed that your outdoor signage is falling victim to weather erosion. Maybe your product literature has become stale. Outdated product displays may be blocking traffic flow in your showroom. You’re there every day and don’t even notice. This is what psychologists call “environmental conditioning.”
Here’s another: On your outdoor signs, is the name of your business buried under tire logos? Can motorists even read your signage as they pass by? Did you know that a motorist traveling 40 mph has only two seconds to read your sign?
Moving inside, are your indoor signboards easy to read and understand? Did you know that a one-inch-high letter on one of your signs is only readable out to 50 feet? Does that make sense, especially if your customer base is a little older?
Selecting the right colors – for your interior walls, building exterior, service bays and even bathrooms – is another basic you may not have considered important. But it is. Color psychologists tell us that warm colors, such as red, orange and yellow generally encourage activity and excitement. Conversely, cool colors, such as green, blue and violet are more soothing and relaxing.
Fast-food restaurants tend to use warm colors so customers perceive an on-the-go product. But, in a five-star restaurant, the colors will be cooler to project a take-your-time experience.
Sounds can influence the mind in the same manner as colors. If you play fast-tempo music in your store, you might want to think twice. Researchers have found that slow-tempo background music can increase retail sales by as much as 38%!
You’ve undoubtedly heard again and again that tires are a grudge purchase. Buying tires is generally a drag for customers who are not tuners, enthusiasts or racers. So, do what you can to induce good moods. It’s all about how customers feel while they’re in your dealership.
Nine: Polish Your Image
Improving sales can also come by using non-verbal communication wisely. You can improve your image without saying a single word. For example, a clean, orderly showroom and a professional-looking service area will build sales.
As soon as a potential tire buyer walks through your front door, he or she forms an opinion. That customer instantly develops perceptions and thoughts about you, your staff, your store, your products, your services and your prices.
He or she scans the room and checks out facial expressions, clothes, body movements and posture, like it or not. If you really think about it, you’ll realize that you do the same thing when you go shopping. They’ll even scan the other customers for clues about your business.
Try to look at your store and employees the way your customers might see them. To do this accurately, you’ll have to try to put yourself in the customer’s place. This requires some assumptions. For example, a customer dressed in an immaculate business suit, complete with a pressed shirt and gold cuff links, may be put off by a front-desk employee with unruly hair, tattoos, body piercings and a “so what” attitude. Before that employee even utters a word, that customer has already made a decision not to buy anything. Sure, it doesn’t sound fair, but that’s how human psychology works.
Similarly, a young tuner shopping for hot wheels and low-profile tires might not take kindly to a tire technician with a know-it-all attitude and condescending mannerisms.
Moderation in physical appearance and dress may be your best bet. You might even consider uniforms, which might make your employees appear more professional.
Make your store an inviting place. Make sure your employees greet customers with warm smiles and friendly expressions. Couple that with a clean, well-scrubbed storeroom (and bathrooms) and an upbeat attitude, and you’ll sell tires.
And, with North America being what it is – an increasingly diverse mix of different cultures and ethnicities – it’s also important to understand how you communicate without speaking. We can’t cover every contingency here, but check out your customer base. You have to treat women differently than men. If you have a high immigrant population, you have to be sensitive to how business is conducted in other cultures. A simple trip to the bookstore can provide some more detailed information.
Ten: Be a Detective
Finally, the number-10 way to improve your sales situation is to be part tire-store owner and part detective.
Watch your local area for commercial developments. Will a Wal-Mart crop up down the street from you within a year? To find out, have lunch with your councilperson once a quarter, and ask about business planning and economic expansions.
Stay abreast of the news in your area, too. Is the road in front of your store due for major resurfacing? How will this impact your customers? Is the area your business is in undergoing a change in look or being crowded by new businesses? How will this affect you and your sales outlook?
Never think you aren’t important enough to rub elbows with elected officials. Their job is to serve you and make your job easier. In fact, many of them will jump at the chance to get input from a successful businessperson.
You also might consider scheduling a lunch with a local reporter – or even your newspaper ad rep – to find out what’s going on in your area. Which businesses are going out of business? Which businesses are coming to town? A housing development means more customers, while a chain store means more competition. In either case, you should develop a strategy to cope with the change.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions of real estate agents, fellow churchgoers or members of social service organizations. Many of these people are – or perhaps will be – your customers. Asking 10 questions can often help you avoid making one mistake.
So, there they are – 10 things you can do right now, without much investment or hardship, to increase your sales. Each of them has its merits. But no matter what you decide to do, always remember this: The real secret to building sales is to let your hard work speak for itself.