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Industry Change Starts with the Independent Tire Dealer

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Welcome to Tire Review’s SourceBook 2016.

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In the pages that follow, you’ll find the latest numbers, details and statistics based on in-depth research
gathered from across our industry.

The information in this issue is designed to help tire dealers better understand the market forces and global industry that directly impacts their business on a daily basis. For this, our 14th Sourcebook published, we profile trends in both tires and service. It also includes our directory of businesses, industry associations and marketing groups giving you handy access to what you need faster.

Full disclosure: I tend to “geek out” over trends, history and data, so you’ll see why this issue is a favorite. While some may view the Sourcebook as our annual snapshot of industry performance, for trend watchers like me this stuff is pure gold. It’s also further confirmation of the evolution underway within our industry.

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As I explore its pages, I’m reminded of the quote by Heraclitus, “You cannot look twice at the same river; for fresh waters are ever flowing in.” Heraclitus (535 BC-475 BC) was among the early Greek philosophers to ponder the nature of metaphysics and laws of the universe. Even Seinfeld’s law of “Even Steven” (if you remember that episode) has its roots in his theories, the idea of the uniformity and balance of opposites.

Certainly the fresh waters are ever flowing in when it comes to the tire business. Looking at the year over year numbers, you’ll certainly see ebb and flow. To continue the analogy, independent tire dealers face waves of competition, changing labor laws and other challenges.

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At the same time, the idea of fresh waters can relate to how you manage your business, staying current and with the flow of overall industry growth.

So what fresh waters are flowing into your business?

In the past two months I’ve attended the splashy openings of the three retail concept locations for Tier 1 tire brands. (Check out my July 2016 column for more details.) While this reimagining manufacturer retail-store trend may seem threatening, it shouldn’t be. I see it as the natural evolution of the industry, creating a real opportunity for independent tire dealers.

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Before I offer you some ideas on how you might capitalize on the trend, let’s look at why this new wave of consumer-direct retail is happening.

Business innovation is typically the result of a void – something is missing in a marketplace or a desire/convenience that needs fulfilled. Consider Uber within the taxi space and Airbnb within hospitality. In most cases, rising consumer expectations are behind the change. These major tire manufacturers are simple asking: “How can we make this ordinary and sometimes painful experience easier and better for each customer.” You can do the same.

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Leadership from all three of the company stores visited told me that customer feedback and stories (good and bad) are being heard and translated into test-store concepts.

Let’s look at examples from each. Located near Beverly Hills, Pirelli is offering vehicle pickup and valet-style “white-glove service” for its high-end customers. Considering that their customers’ vehicles probably cost more than my house, that’s probably an appreciated service to provide. In the suburbs of Chicago, the Bridgestone/Firestone concept store is focused on community and convenience, orchestrating a faster and more efficient approach to service to reduce customers’ down time so they can get back to their lives. The new Goodyear store in Akron is focusing on the customer experience and an individual’s peace of mind with open views into the bays, frequent status updates and an interior designed around trust through transparency.

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All three are putting the needs of the customer above their former approach to the business, testing new ways to serve and build relationships between brand and buyer. All three see opportunity for growth.

Don’t let their growth be at your expense.

Obviously if there were no room for improvement, these large corporations would not be making this type of investment in their own fresh waters. If there were no void – if independent tire dealers were serving customers in every community with a convenient, flawless experience every time – perhaps they would be placing their focus elsewhere. That said, the fact that these shops even exist should be point of motivation to you. That means there is room for growth, for profits, once you get it right.

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A few suggestions:

• Go beyond the “we’ve always done it this way” mentality and find ways to smooth/speed your processes for improved customer convenience and interactions.

• Find new ways to enhance the value of doing business with your shop, and then find ways to amplify those value-adds so people appreciate you more to build loyalty.

• Brainstorm with your team and your customers: “Wouldn’t it be great if we could ___________.” Gather up the ideas and find ways to innovate and stand out.

• Talk to your “one and done” customers. Seek out those former regulars who you don’t see anymore. Your unhappy customers may be the best resource to help you come up with new ways to do it better.

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• Look at your shop through the eyes of a woman. Is it clean? Does it smell good? Is this a place where I feel comfortable hanging out for an hour? If not, you may be missing an opportunity.

• Build up your value in your local community. Those national chains have a difficult time delivering authenticity when it comes to talking about community service – something that should come easy for you. If you’re already out there as a sponsor and community leader, look for ways to do a better job at leveraging what you’re already doing so more people know.

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• Fail fast. Test and learn. Give your team (and yourself) the permission to get it wrong – perhaps a couple of times – as you see what resonates best for your business and its customers.

I hope you enjoy our Sourcebook issue. As an independent tire dealer, your hard work is reflected in the numbers you’ll see on the pages that follow. Your sales numbers are rolled up into those listed by the brands you represent. Your survey responses are reflected in the trends and survey results. You are the source through which the industry flows.

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Now go make some waves.

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