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Getting a Jump: Dealers Say Preparation the Key to Winter Tire Sales Success

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Getting a Jump

Dealers Say Preparation the Key to Winter Tire Sales Success

It’s triple-digit hot outside with no relief in sight. All of your bays are full, and everyone’s patience is wearing thin. The absolute last thing on your mind at this point is winter tire sales.
Well, they shouldn’t be, because an effective seasonal sales strategy starts months before the year’s first set of winter tires are mounted on a customer’s car.
Obviously, winter tire sales are directly proportional to the severity of the weather, and we all know it’s impossible to predict winter weather in July.
However, in areas where winter snow and ice are a way of life, customers are used to the ritual of tire swapping, and the last thing you want to do is get caught unprepared for an early season. 
Preparation is certainly one important key for successfully selling winter tires, and even though it’s sweltering outside today, the manufacturers and wholesalers have already done their part to ensure that product will be available in a few short months.
Without a doubt, though, the most recurring theme in effective winter tire sales is quite simple: education. Your sales staff and technicians need to be ready to answer whatever questions customers might have when the season hits, and know what’s new in this year’s tires. 
Making your store winter tire ready by putting up posters and displays, and even positioning products on the showroom floor, is certainly important just before the season hits. But your sales staff’s knowledge and understanding of the market, the products and the benefits of winter tires will probably be the deciding factor in not just selling a set of winter tires, but selling a set the customer will be satisfied with.

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High Tech Traction

Today’s winter tires are literally and figuratively generations ahead of your father’s “snow tires” – those harsh-sounding, deep-grooved behemoths that traded comfort and handling for the potential of traction.
Another old standby – the all-season tire ®“ certainly holds a dominant position in the market. However, under true winter driving conditions with snow and ice, more specialized tires like Bridgestone’s Blizzak, Michelin’s Alpin, Nokian’s Hakkapeliitta 1 and Hakka Q, Vredestein’s Snowtrac and Windtrac, and all the other winter-specific tires available today offer something even the best all-season tires can’t ®“ optimum performance and safety in extreme conditions.
Some of the newer winter tires can actually be run year-round. There are even H-rated models to satisfy the driver who wants reliable footing in severe weather and confident performance during the rest of the year.
Thanks to optimized tread designs and specialized compounds that deliver in extremely cold conditions, this new generation of winter tires allows dealers to offer customers a serious step up in the one thing that everyone is concerned with – safety.

Education Is Key

Bob Hepp, of University Wholesale in Colchester, Vt., feels that education is the key to selling winter tires. Hepp and his team believe strongly in training. University Wholesale provides winter tire training for the employees of an individual dealership, as well as group training for 100 people or more.
According to Hepp, “there’s still a lot of people who think winter tires are designed just to get you up your driveway.” He went on to say that the majority of all fatal winter accidents are caused by a loss of lateral grip. ®The real purpose of good winter tires is control,® something winter tires are specifically designed for.
The light truck/SUV explosion has definitely had an impact on the tire industry – and the winter tire market. Many drivers figure these larger vehicles ®“ especially those with four-wheel drive ®“ are immune to winter’s fury. The fact is, the vehicle is only as good as the tire it’s riding on ®“ a fact you should stress to your customers.
An off-road or even all-season tire just won’t perform as well on ice and snow as a specialized winter tire. Nokian’s Morrie Van Dorp put it well: “There’s only four reasons your vehicle delivers safety. It’s not ABS or all the other thousands of things the car manufacturers put in today’s passenger vehicles. It’s the four patches of rubber that hit the road. That should be your customer’s first safety concern.”
Customers need to understand that “winter tires are an excellent investment,” said Van Dorp. ®They may only need them one day out of a whole winter, but that one day may end up saving their life.®
Even in traditionally warmer climates, dangerous winter weather can sneak up quickly – with disastrous results. Many areas in Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia can be particularly susceptible to dangerous ice storms and freezing rain. “A dealer in Alabama told me how they can get rain and then a freeze during the winter months, creating some pretty nasty ice conditions,” Van Dorp said. ®And when it happens, you’ve got cars every place. According to the dealer, ‘It may only happen once or twice a year, but that once or twice a year is our winter. If you don’t have the proper tire on at that point in time, you’re in trouble.’®

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Control Is Top Concern

Everyone is concerned with safety, and with studless winter tires approaching studded tires in the area of ice and snow traction, it isn’t hard to see why getting your customers to upgrade to a winter tire is a natural.
In regions where ice and snow are a way of life, at one time or another many drivers have found themselves inadvertently going southbound in the northbound lane, or simply white knuckling it until their cars quit sliding and come to a stop. 
Al Smoke of Vredestein knows just how well winter tires perform, and how pleased the tire customers are through letters and e-mails he receives from end users. According to Smoke, the easiest way for the smaller dealer to get his winter tire sales to take off is to get some tires on your best customers’ cars, and let word of mouth do the rest.
Susan Sizemore of Bridgestone/Firestone notes that the salesperson must know exactly what kind of conditions the customer is intending to drive in, and match the tire to the driver’s specific needs. “The Blizzak, for example, offers users the extra security of a winter traction tire while driving in extreme conditions. One customer even called to thank us, claiming the Blizzak had saved his life.”

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Arm Your Salespeople

Once members of your sales staff thoroughly know and understand the specific performance attributes of your winter tire offering, it’s easy for them to genuinely extol the virtues of specialized tires for winter driving. And it may not be a bad idea to arm your salespeople’s own vehicles with winter tires, not only helping their first-hand knowledge, but giving them the opportunity to better spread the word.
Virtually all winter tire manufacturers are clamoring to educate the public on the benefits of winter tires with ads and commercials.
They also know the value of an educated salesperson, particularly one willing to take time to discuss the customer’s specific driving habits and recommend the best possible tire for his or her application.
Both manufacturers and wholesalers alike have brochures and posters available as part of their point-of-sale package, but the final sale will inevitably rest on your salesperson’s ability to convey the benefits and advantages of winter tires.
One downside is winter tires are more pricey, but to most clients the performance and safety factors far outweigh the extra cost. Some brands or models can be run year-round, yet others are not recommended for non-winter driving, meaning the customer faces two annual tire swaps. In terms of safety, however, running the best possible tire for that particular season is the only option.

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The Upside of Bad Weather

With a well-versed crew and the proper promotional materials in place, the next issue is product availability. Jim Miller in Minneapolis/St. Paul works both sides of the fence with two Twin City Tire and Auto Repair retail stores and a Tires Express Warehouse. He implemented a delivery program in 1988 that currently services some 500 retailers. Miller noted that his warehouse runs off the old 80/20 rule, with some 20% of his customers making up about 80% of his business.
Miller’s distribution system provides three metro area deliveries daily. According to him, “the smaller retailers only need to carry the ‘A’ movers, and then get filled in with the delivery system. As soon as they sell a set or a pair of tires, the dealer can call into our order desk, order the tires they need, and on our next run to their area, we’ll fill them up again.
“Most of our dealers turn their inventory a minimum of 24 times,” Miller said, and it would be almost financially impossible for most retail dealers to keep such a huge inventory of tires on hand. With Tire Express Warehouse delivering so frequently, dealer inventories are kept to a minimum while the selection of tires they can offer is considerable.
When you couple knowledgeable tire technicians and salespeople with quality products, promotional materials and a warehouse to support them, winter tire sales can be a plus for any dealer. It’s been said that dealers who do well with winter tires say they would like to see snow in August.®′

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