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Editor's Notebook

Basketball? No…It’s Tire Retailing

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Around the middle of the second half, I realized what I was watching.

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Sure, on the face of it Michigan State was systematically dismantling Florida in the NCAA finals. But what we were really watching was a perfect metaphor for the state of tire retailing.
Fresh-faced, flashy underclassmen versus patient, methodical upperclassmen. Youth vs. experience. Slick vs. skill.
Florida’s key weapon was a vicious full-court press, relentless pressure that made other teams panic and make mistakes, made them fold.
But MSU had Florida beat the first time down the floor. The press? Not even an issue. For the first time, Florida had met a formidable foe, a team that wasn’t scared of them on the basis of reputation alone.
The run-and-gun play that worked against weaker, less adaptable, less enthused teams didn’t stand up against calm, calculated experience.
Think of the Florida Five as the mass merchants, company-owned locations, discounters, warehouse clubs and car dealers you face every day. The competition you worry about, you fear. Sears, Penske, NTB, Ford, Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club and others.
Slick, shiny and aggressive, but lacking thoughtful restraint. They seem to have every advantage — especially pricing – and everything to offer consumers. But they don’t have the experience, expertise and customer attitude to make it work.
Coaching is not only knowing what the opposition is doing, but understanding it thoroughly. Only then can you put the right people — and products – in the right place at the right time. Only then can you develop a plan of attack that will win the day.
Look beyond the obvious — as MSU’s coaches did – and you’ll see the weakness of the mega-retailers and so-called service centers.
All are trying to employ the same tactics that worked against others. Competition like locally-owned clothing, hardware and appliance stores. All the little guys they buried along the way.
The way you sell tools, clothes, sundries, toys, cookware or socks is not the way you sell tires. Few people expect a lot of attention when they’re buying a pair of jeans or a hammer. Few people need insight and expertise when choosing a case of baked beans.
The only weapon in their arsenal is price, price, price.
Yes, they might put some pressure on and cause some concern. But if you leverage the tools you have — especially customer-orientation and the ability to get the customer the right tire for their vehicle AND application – you’ll take the game right at the opening tip-off.
Sure, there will always be consumers who cling to the Florida Five of tire outlets. You don’t want them as customers anyway. They define value as cheap. They’re willing to accept blank stares and grunts as customer service. They like to choose their tires off a computer screen.
Besides, if and when you get them in your store, you can school them on what a real tire player is all about.
So, the next time you want to say, “Oh, woe is me, I just can’t beat these guys,” just think about MSU.

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