A tire shop’s struggles to capture extra service sales aren’t always due to bad customer service or a disorganized business plan. Keeping your shop’s outdated layout because you’re afraid to gut your shop or simply because “it’s always been that way” could be creating a sales-service disconnect that’s hurting business.
But what if you could rework your shop’s pre-existing service bay layout for maximum efficiency? Or simply add one new piece of sales-building equipment? Or make minor changes to the layout that doesn’t require a full remodel? Hunter Engineering Co. and Plaza Tire Service have done just that.
New Store, New Layout
Earlier this year, Tire Review visited family-owned Plaza Tire Service’s new location in Columbia, Mo., to see the shop’s new layout and high-tech Hunter Engineering equipment.
Plaza Tire is obviously doing something right after celebrating 52 years in business and expanding to 57 locations spread throughout metro St. Louis, and parts of Missouri, southern Illinois, western Kentucky and northeast Arkansas. The new location is Plaza Tire’s fourth Columbia location.
The greenfield store occupies 8,650 square feet, including a showroom and eight service bays. Out back you will find an area to service commercial truck tires and inside, the shop has anywhere from 1,200 to 1,750 passenger, light truck, and medium truck tires in stock.
When customers walk into the shop, there is no maze to the counter. Tire brands – including Bridgestone, Hankook, Pirelli and Nokian – are displayed around showroom and a wide counter space is positioned in the corner of the room to welcome customers.
A clear path is made for customers, and the open-concept room leads right into a waiting area where customers can watch their cars be serviced through a large window. All of the restrooms have been strategically tucked away at the back of the showroom.
To increase the efficiency of the shop further, Plaza Tire has been working with Hunter Engineering Co. to optimize space and update technology.
Plaza Tire has been integrating Hunter’s Quick Check inspection system into its stores for the last four years, says Mark Rhodes, president of Plaza Tire Service. The new Columbia location is the first new Plaza Tire store with the entire Quick Check system.
Rhodes says he likes the overall customer friendliness of the new store, as well as how he can show customers how technologically advanced a tire shop can be.
Plaza Tire plans to open two more stores in new markets – Warrenton, Mo., and Mount Vernon, Ill. – by the end of 2015 with the same Quick Check capabilities and the window between the service and waiting areas.
Car Dealerships to Tire Shops
With the help of Hunter, a 3-D virtual model of the Columbia location, based off of the shop’s blueprints, was created to show how it would look and feel to walk through the shop. To create these designs, Hunter has been working with Autoplan Plus Inc., an a Canadian facility design and consulting company.
Autoplan Plus started with car dealerships before working on tire shops. Gordon Manock, CEO of Autoplan Plus, created a store layout for a struggling GM dealer who was brand-new to the business after inheriting her father’s store. What Manock created wasn’t just a new look to the shop, but more traffic and more sales. A glass enclosure from the service area had customers migrating into a new car showroom to test drive vehicles, and the new, more efficient service layout got vehicles in and out quickly, while Hunter’s Quick Check generated real-time inspection reports.
It’s no secret that car dealers can be a tire dealer’s biggest competitor, but Hunter is taking the best practices of a car dealer service center and bringing them to tire dealers.
“We’ve seen that the dealership world is getting so technologically advanced and with such deep pockets that it’s putting this downward pressure on places like Plaza Tire Service and even down to smaller dealers now. They have to start implementing strategies like this to stay relevant and competitive,” says Madeline Triplett of advertising development at Hunter Engineering.
“Plaza Tire is growing so much and is one of the largest tire dealers out there in the U.S. right now. I think you are going to see the people who adopt these almost dealership like practices are going to be the ones that stay,” Triplett adds.
Hunter expands the design service into a concept they are calling the “Shop of the Future.”
Hunter’s “Shop of the Future” concept is futuristic in its efficiency. Hunter sales representatives can create a complete shop layout on site using the Swedish floor planning software, by EC Design, and add equipment where it best helps workflow. After the initial design, Hunter can have an Autoplan 3-D walkthrough created for the shop, like it did for Plaza Tire.
By reorganizing equipment in existing space and integrating Hunter equipment such as the Quick Check system to speed up service checks, Hunter is creating a high-tech and productive tire store without any intensive remodeling.
At Plaza Tire, a simple layout change to the standard Plaza Tire store design was to add a window between the waiting area and the service area; a simple, yet transformative change.
“In a small store, some equipment competes with functionality,” says Rhodes. For example, he noticed that positioning an alignment rack in front of the service window blocked a customer’s view of the service area – eliminating a customer’s ability to see out the window.
To change this visibility and sales issue, Rhodes had Hunter’s Quick Check system moved into the alignment rack’s place, creating not only visibility, but integrating the Hunter Quick Check system to create even more transparency with the customer.
“With Quick Check, the customer can physically see their car being analyzed and serviced,” Rhodes notes. Plaza Tire uses the system to check alignment, tread depth, tire pressure and battery life in real time, and the results are shown on a flat-screen TV in the waiting area and also printed on paper so the customer can review the results with the store’s counter staff.
“This is all so the customer has the ability to see everything that’s happening with their vehicle. So now when the counter person is actually talking with the customer, they’re simply obligation-selling right there,” Tom Settle, director of training for Hunter Engineering, adds. “The customer saw it. That was really their car being checked and he’s just not making this up and saying this is wrong.”
Plaza Tire can now inspect a car in less than two minutes with Quick Check, allowing more cars to be checked and creating happy customers with reduced wait time and a transparent process.
“Customers don’t want to be sold, they want to be informed,” Settle says. “And they want to make an informed decision based on your recommendations. So that’s what we’re trying to achieve here.”
On average, Settle says about 60% of vehicles on the road have an alignment opportunity, 15% have a battery opportunity and another 15% have a tire tread opportunity. So if 10 vehicles come into a shop, about six will have an alignment problem.
With Hunter’s Quick Check system, the independent tire dealer can check more than alignment and can capture all 10 vehicles for some added service. For example, if the customer comes in to have his or her alignment checked, the Quick Check system would also check the brakes, battery, tire pressure and tire tread on the vehicle. While running these additional tests in no extra time, the technician could find a battery problem that another tire shop may not have checked for.
At Plaza Tire, the Quick Check system has allowed the shop to find a variety of service opportunities. From Sept. 1-Nov. 18, 64% of vehicles failed at least one check, 57% failed alignment, 27% failed battery, 9% failed brakes, and 27% tires checked were 5/32nds or below.
“The equipment, we always say when we are presenting this to customers, is only 25% of the equation. It is by no means the most important or the sole factor. For us, equipment is finding more repair opportunities faster,” Triplett says.”