By Craig Gifford
For the past two years, Tire Review has brought you Dealer Diary, a monthly series that focuses on typical tire dealers and the ins and outs of their business.
Dave Schardt, president of The Wheel Source in Dayton, Ohio, has made custom wheels his primary focus, through both a retail store in Dayton and wholesale operations around the country. Tires are still a big part of The Wheel Source’s business, but they specialize in custom wheels and other performance products.
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Knowing What You Are –
And What You Can Do – Helps Maintain Focus
Marketing a tire dealership is always a hard job. Some would argue it’s a full time job in and of itself. Everybody needs a tire, but nobody wants to think about them. They’re round, they’re black and more often than not what a dealer really ends up talking about is price, service and availability.
Now, how about marketing a dealership geared around performance products in a market area that isn’t always suited for performance cars? That’s what Dave Schardt does.
The Wheel Source is located in Dayton, Ohio. Not California. Not Florida or Arizona. Ohio. Where it snows and it sleets and it reaches sub-zero temperatures. Treacherous conditions doesn’t exactly make Dayton a hotbed for performance work.
"To a certain degree, it’s really not," said Schardt. "In the summer, people are out cruising around, so it’s easier. We have to work real hard to market ourselves in the winter. We pull people from Indiana, from Kentucky. We even have one customer who drives from West Virginia."
So here’s the rub. Yes, The Wheel Source sells winter tires. Yes, they are still open the same hours. But what does a performance shop look to accomplish once the snow flies?
"We try to plan for it," he said. "This will sound funny, but we budget to lose money in the winter because overhead expenses will outweigh sales.
"Unless you have phenomenal January or something, you will lose money."
Instead of installing chrome wheels or mounting ultra-high performance tires all day, Schardt and his employees might find themselves with a broom or hammer in hand performing a little shop maintenance.
"Things start slowing down for us in October and they really don’t pick up again until the end of February," Schardt said. "So we clean the shop or put on a fresh coat of paint. All the remodeling gets done over the winter. It really works out because when it starts to get busy, there’s really no time to do anything."
What Works, What Doesn’t
Even with fighting the winter slump, The Wheel Source has done well for itself. That’s due, in large part, to successful marketing tactics.
All the marketing and advertising flows through Schardt’s desk. He’s the last one to approve an idea before money changes hands and one of the best things that he sees his company doing is advertising in the area sports car enthusiast magazines Ð targeting the people that are willing to spend the money on their cars.
"We advertise in the local club magazines. The BMW and Porsche newsletters," he said. "We do get a pretty good return because it goes directly to the audience we’re looking to capture. If these people are paying $50 to join a club, they really like their cars and are willing to spend the money on them."
There is one marketing tactic that Schardt does shy away from. Radio doesn’t seem to work as well for him as he would like.
"We’ve done radio in the past and I don’t do much of it any more," he said. "Now, there is a radio station locally that sends employees out looking for cars that have stickers from sponsors and if the station reads the license plate over the air, the driver can win a prize.
"We sponsor that promotion and pass out window stickers for the car owners to put on. Stuff like that makes sense."
The Wheel Source also does very little television advertising unless the spots are co-oped by Toyo or another manufacturer.
The discussion of price advertising among dealers is also an interesting topic. Some dealers adamantly believe in not giving out product price in their advertising. Others traditionally run grid-designed ads with a microtype tire sizes and prices in large, bold print.
Schardt’s viewpoint on price-focused ads varies depending on what’s being advertised.
"We’ve used both ways of advertising. It depends on what you’re talking about," he said. "If you’re advertising Highline wheels, don’t even bother mentioning the price. But if you’re selling some brands of tires, you almost have to mention the price. You don’t want people calling you all day long for prices of tires."
Every dealer has stories about marketing ploys gone awry. Plans that looked good on paper but just didn’t cut it in the real world.
"Radio is one of those marketing ideas for us," Schardt said. "When we were first getting into the business, everybody was doing radio and you think it’ll work.
"We tried it on a limited basis and expanded from there, but we saw little return. I’m sure there was something, but it wasn’t anything noticeable."
One thing that does work for The Wheel Source is a cruise-in. "We invite people to come to our parking lot and display cars, and we raffle off prizes," Schardt said. "The response to this is far greater than we expected.
"People really look forward to it, and now we only do about one a year because it’s gotten so big and takes so much work."
One of the worst things Schardt says a dealer can pull is the old "bait and switch" tactic of offering one thing and then trying to sell something else. While Schardt says he sees that a lot in the wheel industry, it’s also a problem on the tire side, as well.
"The switching of products on people, we have a lot of that in the wheel industry," he said. "They’ll advertise a product and when the customer comes in, they claim to not have the advertised wheel, but offer one very similar. Things like that happen all the time and most any wheel dealer who hears that would agree."
And Schardt agrees bait-and-switch isn’t for his business at all.