Getting To Know You
“You have to make time. You don’t have to be at all the meetings, but you want people know you’re out there.”
This is the fifth installment of Tire Review’s Dealer Diary, a year-long series showcasing a typical tire dealer, his business, how he runs it, the many issues he deals with on a day-to-day basis, and his thoughts on the industry in general.
This year’s Dealer Diary series, written by Managing Editor Craig Gifford, features two different tire dealers, alternating between one focused primarily on the retail side, and another that handles mainly commercial accounts.
We’d love to hear your comments on this series. Drop us a line using the reader feedback card in this issue, or send us an e-mail at [email protected]. Profiled in this installment is Jeff Hill, the retail sales manager of North Gateway Tire, located in Medina, Ohio.
It seems that the longer a dealership is in business, the more it learns about how to survive. It’s only natural. A shop that has 15-20 years of experience has seen much more than a shop with only a couple years under its belt.
Experience is what it’s all about. It allows a dealership to see opportunities on the horizon and problems before they have a chance to occur.
And, experience can allow a dealership to promote itself without doing a great deal of advertising.
Such is the case with North Gateway Tire (NGT). While NGT does a little advertising (cable spots, etc.) it really doesn’t actively promote itself through normal channels. But, if that is the case, why then does it have a 20-year history in a community that recognizes it as a leader?
Experience … in the form of community participation.
“We do a lot of stuff with different groups in the area, like Rotary and Kiwanis,” said Jeff Hill, the retail sales manager for North Gateway. ®Being a locally owned store, we know a lot of people, and we see a lot of people when we’re out in public.®
North Gateway Tire has been a member of the Medina Chamber of Commerce and the local Better Business Bureau since the store opened 20 years ago. Along the way, NGT has affiliated itself with the Rotary, Kiwanis and Lions Clubs. In fact, NGT’s boss, Darrel Hill, has even joined a couple local country clubs. And, according to Darrel Hill, virtually every member of those clubs buys tires from North Gateway.
“The biggest reason we’re members (of various organizations) is because you get to know everyone and they get to know you,” Jeff Hill said. ®(The clubs) get comfortable with you and they feel comfortable sending people they know to your business. They trust you and know you’ll do the best job possible.®
Being involved in a community also garners recognition, for both the dealership and its employees. In many cases, being the retail sales manager for a local tire dealership is like being a public figure.
“I get stopped all the time,” Hill said. ®I don’t go anyplace without running into someone I know. It’s not necessarily a long conversation, they just want to know how it’s going.
“The last time I went to the grocery store, I didn’t even get in the door before two of my customers stopped me. And then once I was inside, another of my customers stopped me, so it was a half an hour before I even got started shopping.”
But one of the best reasons for getting involved in the community isn’t personal gain. It’s to build trust between the dealership and the community.
“You’re always building trust. We treat customers fairly and equally,” Hill said. ®The better you treat them, the better they feel. Customer service is No. 1 and you have to keep that in your mind.®
That thought is reinforced daily by a sign on the wall in NGT’s office: “Anything less than fanatical customer service is unacceptable.”
Building trust is like generating advertising —when it’s there, things are great. But as soon as the trust goes away, everything can fall apart ®” and quickly.
“As fast as you gain trust, you can lose it. If you have a disgruntled employee who is not doing their job and they’re working with a customer that you’ve had for 10 years, if that customer has a bad experience, that reflects on the entire shop,” Hill said.
“You’ve got to realize that your customers are people just like you. You can’t let a customer leave the shop mad.”
Trust is built and destroyed just like the best advertising: through word of mouth.
“It’s the little things. If you do someone right, they’ll tell 10 people what you did,” said Hill. ®But if you do someone wrong, they’ll tell everyone they know.®
A dealership can advertise all it wants, but, according to Hill, the best way to gain a community’s trust and to be seen as a leader is to get involved.
“Dealers have to make time for local organizations,” he said. ®No one has enough time. You work all day and have family responsibilities when you get home. But, in order to be seen as a community leader, you have to make time. You don’t have to be at all the meetings, but you want to let people know you’re out there.
“Being a community leader is important. We’ve watched the community grow, and there have been a lot of changes.”
And Hill has one of the better ways for a tire dealer to win over the public: Go through the kids.
“One important area to consider is getting involved with local high school. Helping out with the sports program, through sponsorships and donations, can go a long way,” Hill said. ®In smaller communities, high school sports are so important, and being a supporter will only help.®®′