We at Tire Review hear time and time again from our readers that in today’s ultra-competitive market, every edge is necessary to beat the competition.
Fine-tuning your dealership’s customer service and perfecting shop operations are the first – and most obvious – steps. Beyond that, successful dealers are working hard to deliver even more to their customers.
While a no-frills location certainly is capable of offering excellent service and running profitably, store appearance is one of those advantages that certainly gives a leg up on the competition when it comes to attracting and retaining customers.
If you’re considering building a new store or giving an existing location a face lift, it’s a great time to weigh new, innovative features and designs. We spoke with some dealers who recently have done just that – and they are reaping the rewards.
Mapping Out the Project
Allen Park, Mich.-based Belle Tire, already roughly one-third of the way through a planned remodel of all 90 of its retail locations, began the renovation project to shatter the “greasy garage” stereotype implanted in many customers’ heads, according to Wayne Shotwell, vice president of logistics and asset management.
“Customer expectations are evolving and it is critical for Belle Tire to be able to meet and exceed them,” he explains. “Getting new tires or having your vehicle serviced isn’t something people usually look forward to, and we want to make the process as pleasant as possible, while minimizing their perceived wait times for service.”
In 2011, the dealership began working with Southfield, Mich.-based retail consultants JGA Inc. to design a modern showroom and waiting area. Belle Tire began executing the plan in 2012 and projects that it will take another six years of remodeling work to finish out its entire complement of locations.
“One of the major goals of our remodel was to help create an experience that fits into the busy lifestyles of our customers,” Shotwell explains. “Our new in-store design creates an even better opportunity for us to provide the great service our customers have come to expect while catering to their needs.
For example, free Wi-Fi and charging stations for wireless devices are geared toward working professionals, allowing them to be “productive away from home or the office,” he says.
A brighter, more open space allows customers to feel more connected with the Belle Tire brand, Shotwell says, adding, “For example, they can go to separate pods – instead of the traditional counter – and receive one-on-one service from our employees. The personalized attention allows our team to create a more customized experience for the customer.”
Shattering the negative perception of an automotive service experience was also the reason that Pennsylvania-based Flynn’s Tire & Auto Service began its renovation process roughly four years ago, according to vice president Tania Flynn Warminski.
“The majority of people who walk into our showrooms are not looking forward to making a purchase,” she explains. “They don’t want to buy something, they have to buy something. So, if they have to make that purchase, we’d like them to want to purchase from us. The better they feel about the overall experience, the more likely they will be to want to continue to do business with us.”
Flynn’s has completed remodels at six locations, is currently discussing options for another two, and eventually plans to renovate 10 more sites (at a rate of one or two locations each year). Cosmetically, the new plans strive for a “coffee shop feel,” Warminski says, adding that showrooms were transformed into warm, inviting spaces with comfortable leather seating, high- and low-top round tables and chairs, a coffee bar with a wide selection of beverages, a flat-screen TV and free Wi-Fi.
“All of that creates a café style look, rather than the traditional shop waiting area,” she says. “The tables offer a place for customers to comfortably keep their coffee or laptop, or even to eat lunch or dinner, while waiting for their vehicle to be serviced. It’s also a nice place for children to do their homework or color.”
Like Belle, Flynn’s also made the switch from sales counters to sales pods. “It’s much easier for our sales associates to interact with each customer,” Warminski says. “It makes it easier to keep things clean because associates have their own area to maintain. They have their own phone and their own terminal; everything is at their fingertips.”
Other new features include easy-to-clean ceramic tile in showrooms and hardwood-type flooring in waiting areas; ADA-approved (Americans with Disabilities Act) restrooms; and brighter outside signs for increased visibility at night.
Paving the Way
When remodeling an existing location, minimizing disruptions – for your customers and your staff – should be a focus. A “Please Pardon Our Dust” sign will only go so far if your shop is dirty, noisy and otherwise difficult to endure.
“It’s very important for us to be able to continue offering tires and automotive services to our customers during this time,” says Belle’s Shotwell. “We have as much of the work as possible performed outside of our business hours to minimize the disruption to our customers and staff.”
He adds that one of the greatest challenges encountered during the remodel has been getting contractors aligned with Belle’s schedule, as “most of them are not accustomed to working on nights and weekends.”
Flynn’s adapted its strategy as needed at each location, but in most cases put up temporary walls dividing the showroom/waiting area in half. “This reduced the noise for our customers while our contractors were working; they completed one half of the room at a time,” Warminski says.
Flynn’s also worked with contractors to get as much done after regular business hours.
“The biggest challenge was for the employees who had to work through the remodel day in and day out,” Warminski adds. “It had to be very inconvenient, but they did it and they did it with positive attitudes.”
To keep things on track, Flynn’s relies on a project manager to communicate with each contractor on a consistent basis and get weekly budget updates. “He doesn’t accept change orders easily; he also holds contractors to deadlines,” Warminski notes.
When it comes to minimizing costs, Shotwell says Belle Tire’s strategy has been to purchase supplies in bulk – which is easier to do when working to remodel such a large number of stores.
“We’re currently testing LED lighting in a couple of our commercial stores in Warren, Mich., and Cleveland,” he says. “This may be a way for us to cut store costs in the future and introduce more energy-efficient materials, as well.”
As part of its renovations, Flynn’s has been converting T12 lighting fixtures in its showrooms and shops to T8s in showrooms and T5s in shops in an effort to reduce future energy costs. The T5 is 50% more energy efficient, according to Warminski.
From the Ground Up
With its abundance of windows, attractive stone accents and soaring showroom ceilings – complete with a chandelier, skylight and ceiling fan – Arlington Auto & Tire in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., does not resemble the typical tire dealership.
When owner Ed Perry built the shop in 2007, he planned for the Craftsman/Iron Age style partly because it’s what he liked, but also to appease the town’s Architectural Review Board. “It fits with the period; this part of town began to develop in the 1920s to 1940s, so that was acceptable to the board.”
With construction experience and detailed knowledge of the state’s building and electrical codes, Perry says he was able to handle the construction himself, saving nearly $500,000 from the lowest contractor estimate. “Keeping costs down requires a little sweat equity,” he notes.
“In the Northeast, you either need a lot of excess cash or must be willing to work seven days a week, 18 hours a day to make a building like this possible because taxes and construction costs are so high,” he explains.
Aside from the impressive appearance, Arlington Tire offers its staff and customers plenty of comfortable, usable space. In the shop, windows bring in natural light, high ceilings provide added ventilation and sound absorbing tiles improve comfort for techs. Energy-efficient CFL and LED lighting brightens up the wide-open showroom – and saves on energy costs.
“Shops are really best served as open spaces with as much usable square feet as practical,” Perry advises. “Creating partitions is an effort in futility – at some time in the future, they will be irrelevant and you will end up moving things. So for the most part, open, pre-fab buildings are really the lowest cost-per-square-foot and offer the most usable space.”
While the sky is the limit when it comes to building a new store or renovating an existing location, Perry cautions that sometimes dazzling your customers may backfire. “Most customers express concerns that it appears expensive and they think the prices are higher,” he says, even though Arlington Tire’s prices were among the lowest when marketing and research firm Marketplace Insights polled the competition.
“Fancy buildings and shops are meaningless when the customer experiences poor work,” Perry says, adding that in the end, “Fancy does not really ring with consumers – you are judged on the quality of your work. The customer needs good work, pays for good work, and in the long run, judges you on quality work.”