For some independent tire dealers, marketing is one of those things that seems to jump from to-do list to to-do list, with you always saying I’ll get to that later. For others, word of mouth seems to be a just fine marketing tactic. But if you’re interested in growing your clientele, especially bringing in people that might not know about you, marketing is like the welcome mat to your business. It doesn’t matter if it’s digital or print, your marketing materials create a first impression of your business for customers.
In the digital age, there are so many ways to market your business, you might be thinking: What will work for me? You have limited time on your hands, so where can you best put your dollars to reap the rewards of more business? We posed this question to this year’s Top Shop Winner, Telle Tire & Auto Centers, and Finalists, Best-One of Indy and Don Foshay’s Discount Tire & Alignment — those that made it to the top in our 2022 Top Shop Contest, sponsored by Coats.
We caught up with this year’s Top Shops during our Top Shop Summit in Nashville, Tennessee, this summer, where we discussed a variety of shop operations topics. Here, you’ll find the first in a series of podcasts discussing pressing topics for shop owners, including technician recruitment and retention, industry trends and advice for other tire dealers.
Maddie Winer, Editor, Tire Review: So first, let’s hear from Telle Tire and Auto Centers, this year’s Tire Review Top Shop Winner, on how they structure their marketing spend. Telle Tire has 18 locations across the state of Missouri and Aaron Telle, a fourth-generation tire dealer and president and CEO of Telle Tire, says the way his business structures its marketing spending continues to evolve.
Aaron Telle: So maybe five years ago, 60 of our advertising was print. I would say today maybe 5% of our advertising is print. And those dollars really continue to go towards digital. So we’re utilizing Google AdWords, we’re focused on an SEO strategy… and you’re building results over time. And then we utilize Google AdWords as well. From a print standpoint, what we find is we stay within the local small community papers. The communities that have the tight-knit community still utilize those print ads and we find success with that. We do email marketing reminders, communicating with our customers about oil change reminders is something that’s very important. We just started to do TV for the first time. We actually just started that this month. So we’re starting to expand in that, and we’re excited to see how that will work for us.
Maddie: Aaron told us cable TV and streaming are what Telle Tire is currently experimenting with; however, he said Google AdWords has served as the most successful marketing tactic for his business
Aaron: If somebody’s googling tires or auto service repair needs, they’re really not doing that for fun. And more than likely they’re ready for those services. So trying to be able to get their eyeballs on our website page and telling the story of why they should bring their vehicle to us is probably the most effective
Maddie: Telle Tire also adds a personal touch to its marketing, which seems to be popular among customers.
Aaron: One of the things that we do that really works well for us is we set a goal for each store every month to send out 50 thank you cards to customers. That comes down to that personal touch. A handwritten thank you card can go a really long way. Then, we’ll even take it to another step where when we talk about building relationships, it’s not just about fixing their vehicle, but really getting to know that person. So we might find out somebody’s favorite restaurant or where they like to go for coffee in the morning and then we’ll actually go out and buy a gift certificate for that restaurant or a gift card for Starbucks or whatever it might be.
Maddie: Don Foshay’s Discount Tire & Alignment, a Top Shop Finalist this year and in 2019, has six locations in the state of Maine. Something that owner Don Foshay said that was a thread in all of our interviews this year was that the most critical thing in business today is finding employees.
Don: At least in our area, everybody has worked so hard with their marketing to bring in more customers. And right now, it’s just been so busy. The number one priority is staffing your business to handle the people that are coming in anyway.
Maddie: We’ll have more on how this year’s Top Shops are finding and retaining employees in another episode. But for years, Don says word of mouth is one of his most successful marketing tactics
Don: Our system is different than a big box and some of these other folks. We operate on the premise of, “I’ve got a guy.” If somebody’s at work and they’ve got a problem with their car or they’ve got a tire issue, that person that they’re working with says, “I’ve got a guy.” In our stores and on a number of occasions, it’s also, “I’ve got a girl.” So I think that is the most effective thing. So then we couple that with being super aggressive with our managers on getting reviews. When I buy anything now, I look at the reviews and they just can’t just be good, they have to be current and there has to be a lot of them. And we incentivize our managers. We use a company called Bird Eye that gathers those reviews and kind of pushes them to the appropriate areas. But our managers are compensated for talking a customer into giving us a review. And so it’s worked out really well. I think we’re up to around 2,000 reviews. It’s five stars. And that in itself, if as long as your website is tooled correctly, they Google you [and find] tires near me, automotive repair near me, we pop up. It’s a bunch of reviews. They’re all current and they’re five stars. And so we get our shot.
Maddie: Don says garnering customer reviews are part of his service advisors’ spiff program and they get a check at the end of the month for the reviews they bring in. One tactic that has worked in the past for the business is targeting certain zip codes to really hone in on customers in a certain area.
Don: We’ve done well with cable television. It’s very price-effective in that you can target certain zip codes. You’re not paying for reach that you don’t need. So if you’re buying some of the network stuff, unless you’re 150 stores, you’re going to pay for reach that you don’t need. And on the digital side of things, it’s the exact same thing. The ability to target zip codes from a digital marketing standpoint. Those are the two things that we use that aren’t word-of-mouth oriented. Just as I said, we’re so busy right now, the bulk of your marketing effort is spent marketing ourself to prospective employees.
Maddie: Best-One of Indy, one of our Finalists in this year’s Top Shop program, is laser-focused on its mission of “Creating Raving Fans,” which you can see in its marketing. With 15 locations in and around the Indianapolis, Indiana area, Best-One of Indy uses different tactics to spread its messaging. Rich Elliot, the company’s president, describes its marketing strategy as:
Rich: It’s like an onion with various layers. And when you peel back those layers, you get to the center, which is our external raving fan or the customer. So each layer is a different tactic, but it serves the same purpose, which is getting our message to the customer that keeps us top of mind. And so all of our marketing layers work together to help achieve this, even if they may not be ready to buy at that time.
These tactics maintain a low buzz throughout the year. For example, annual outdoor boards that are strategically placed around the city loop, Google SCM for branding, monthly ads and niche publications like Farm World. Our social media presence is heavier branding versus promotional, those kinds of things. However, this list also includes our website, our showrooms, marketing materials you see in our showrooms, team member uniforms, etc. Really our brand is everything.
We have definitely actively entered the digital age. We haven’t ignored it. We’ve jumped into it fully. And so that’s been a big part of what we’re doing to capture the information and use the information to our advantage to not pester customers or potential customers, but to give us enough information to target them specifically.
Maddie: Another small but clever thing that Best-One of Indy does is hanging tags on a customer’s rearview mirror to let them know about different promotions and discounts the business is offering at the time. Rich also said Best-One of Indy likes to have fun with its marketing, especially with its sports marketing. which is definitely noticed by locals.
Rich: We have some sports marketing that we do. We’ve been partnered with the Indianapolis Indians, our AAA baseball team in town for a long time. This year we did something that really excites us. We’ve gotten so many text pictures of people in the Best-One of Indy picnic area. It’s their corporate entertainment piece. So companies will bring their team members and feed them and give them drinks and the whole place is branded with Best-One of Indy umbrellas. I mean our logos are all over and we’ll get texts from friends and family members whose company has taken them there.
Maddie: One piece of advice the Best-One of Indy team would give to other dealers is to pay attention to customer reviews and don’t put all your eggs in one basket, as Scott Monteith, the company’s vice president, says.
Scott: You have to use a multi-channel approach to your own marketing plans. Digital is the wave, that’s where everybody’s going. Social media is big. We’re very high on getting as high a Google rating as we can possibly get. In fact, none of our stores are below 4.5.
I think we’ve got one or two at 4.9. People will tell us, I came to you because I saw your reviews and your Google rating. So that’s powerful. We work hard at obtaining a good Google score.