A cruise ship would seem to be an odd place to conduct serious business, but the relaxing atmosphere afforded by Carnival’s stately Conquest was just the tonic for some 1,000 American Car Care Center (ACCC) dealers and their spouses. ACCC practically took over the Caribbean liner for seven days, giving dealers a nice mid-winter break and an ideal backdrop for ACCC’s “Driving Us Forward” meeting theme.
While tire companies and other groups use dealer meetings to kick start the year, with an eye on “moving forward,” ACCC kept the focus on the “us” aspect of the meeting theme, said Len Lewin, ACCC president and CEO.
“We really wanted to emphasize the power of the group,” he said, and consequently how the group now 1,200 retail locations strong powers its individual members.
Taking nearly every berth on a cruise ship is one obvious way to demonstrate group strength.
But more than size is needed for dealers to succeed. “Being above average is not good enough anymore,” Lewin told the dealers. Dealers are competing for people’s time and dollars, and consumer expectations continue to rise, he pointed out, which places pressure on dealers to provide more than just industry-standard service.
“We have to be more than tire retailers. We have to be retailers, and that means going beyond just selling tires and service,” Lewin said. Part of that means appearing seamless to consumers, he explained, so that no matter which ACCC dealer they visit anywhere in the country customers will experience the same “look and feel and services.”
Toward that end, last year, ACCC retained a company to do ‘mystery shopper’ evaluations of every one of its dealers’ stores. The hired shoppers evaluated every aspect of their dealer visit, and final scores were sent to each dealer.
ACCC worked to keep the evaluations objective, Lewin said. “There were no gray areas. Everything was graded ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ And, this was not a beautification program. We gauged how individual dealers and locations were supporting the ACCC program against what our board felt was a ‘base.’”
The first round of evaluations was completed this past fall, and the next round occurred in February. ACCC distributor members and dealers feel the on-going project was worthwhile.
“This is not a one-shot deal,” Lewin said. “We want to use this to drive consistency in the program and make the overall network transparent to consumers.”
“We saw ourselves at a crossroads as a company and as a group,” said Dave Crawford, ACCC’s marketing director. So, at this meeting, ACCC took a step back and looked at its recent past to set the stage for its future.
Since its last major dealer meeting two years ago, ACCC has shifted production of some of its American radial private brand tires from Michelin to Cooper, added new General and Continental products and brought on Yokohama and Warrior branded tires.
In fact, representatives from Continental Tire North America (CTNA) were on hand to update ACCC dealers on enhancements to CTNA’s tire lines.
ACCC also restructured its already successful credit card program. The program, said Crawford, offers the lowest discount rate and “is head and shoulders above the rest of the industry.”
Two major changes made by ACCC will make it easier for dealers to process card applications and simplify the interest rate calculation for customers, tying it directly to purchase amount. The addition of GE Rapid Credit significantly shortens credit approval times for consumers and virtually eliminates a long process for dealers, Crawford said. The card program also includes statement stuffers and other marketing perks for dealers.
In addition, ACCC hopes to add acceptance for ExxonMobil credit cards, opening the doors for seven million cardholders to use the fuel card for ACCC dealer products and services.
ACCC’s tire and service warranty programs were shifted to Automotive Business Solutions, and its warranty brochures have been updated, Crawford said, but the basic program remains unchanged. “It was built for the benefit of the customer,” he said, and provides seamless coverage from coast to coast.
Dealer training has received added emphasis over the past two years, Crawford explained. ACCC’s business planning program was updated, and new classes were developed on merchandising, retail sales and management as well as advertising. For 2006, 18 specific training sessions have been scheduled.
All told, ACCC has scheduled seven retail selling workshops, two business planning sessions and two merchandising workshops. Seven other training sessions have also been set. Every ACCC dealer in attendance also received a customized copy of Mitchell1’s TPMS databook, and ACCC is working with TIA to provide TPMS training to its dealers.
In terms of industry involvement, ACCC is continuing to work with NHTSA and the RMA to urge greater participation in National Tire Safety Week.
The last two years, said Crawford, ACCC has worked to develop new suppliers, such as Cooper, Advo and Customer Link, as well as strengthen existing relationships with CTNA, Michelin and long-time equipment and service vendors.
ACCC is also working to update its Web site to improve communications with dealers and provide them with additional information and materials. Plus, ACCC wants the site to be more user friendly so that consumers can easily access information about ACCC’s values and programs. ACCC will also add a dealer locator to make it easier for consumers to find the nearest dealer.
To better demonstrate the “us” in “Driving Us Forward,” two long-time ACCC dealers Jilanna Swann of Swanns American Car Care Centers in Ripley, W.V., and Mark Griffin of Tandem Tire in Dubuque, Iowa were featured in testimonials. They both talked about how the ACCC program helped them succeed, allowed them more time to tend to business and made them “bigger” than they had been as individual dealers.
Moving forward, Crawford outlined the group’s marketing plans for the coming year. ACCC will have three consumer promotions in 2006 and will continue to tie into Michelin’s promotions. Two of the promos will be with CTNA, and one will feature the American Radial private brand and Capitol import lines.
The group also intends to launch a major promotion at the end of the year that will include a “sizeable charitable contribution,” Crawford told dealers.
ACCC took time to honor some of its own, and presented its ACE (Achieving Customer Expectations) awards to several dealers who earned exceptionally high marks from customers.
Throughout the entire seven-day program, ACCC held drawings and awarded door prizes to attending dealers. The drawings were capped off when Dave Barron, part of the Jack Williams Tire ACCC group, won a 2006 Chevrolet Corvette, a prize sponsored by ACCC.
To complement the general sessions, many ACCC member distributors held separate meetings with their dealers.