Make Opportunity Knock
Commercial Light Truck Fleets Full of Untapped Potential
Tire dealers are constantly looking for ways to increase business – especially long-term loyal business. But one of the easiest sales and profit avenues is right under most dealers’ noses. And not getting noticed.
"My estimate is 75 percent of all commercial light truck fleets are invisible," according to Guy Walenga, Bridgestone/Firestone engineering manager for commercial products. "And it’s mostly because the fleet itself doesn’t know any better, and because no one is chasing the business."
Mike Barker, national manager of marketing for Continental General Tire Inc.’s Commercial Division, concurs. "Most truck tire sales people won’t go after commercial light truck business because they view it as retail business. Meanwhile, the retail guys won’t go after it because they view it as commercial business."
In the end, countless potential customers – plumbers, electricians, landscapers, farmers and ranchers, florists, contractors and construction companies, cable and phone companies and more – go unnoticed and unserviced.
Both Walenga and Barker agree that an aggressive dealer, with the right attitude, can develop significant high margin tire sales and vehicle service business with commercial light truck fleets.
"The first rule of thumb is to consider this segment like commercial business," said Walenga. "Forget the ‘light’ part. Whether its one truck or 500, you should treat a commercial light truck tire fleet like you would a trucking fleet. If you get a commercial focus, you’ll have a much better business attitude on how you can tackle the market. Plus, those small commercial accounts want to be treated like big commercial guys."
"The best advise is to go out and bang on doors," said Barker. "It’s ‘tweener’ business. Retail dealers don’t want to make the calls on them, so they just wait for the odd vehicle to come in for work. Commercial dealers really don’t want to deal with them. Retail guys interested in this market need to develop a commercial mentality, and commercial dealers need to consider it a simple extension of their current business."
For a commercial dealer, adding commercial light truck customers is a pretty easy transition. But what about the primarily retail dealer?
"I think it’s deceptively easy for a retail dealer to get into," said Walenga. But the deception lies in the dealer’s attitude and willingness to learn. "Because of the type of vehicles, the dealer may sell the wrong product, give the wrong services, get the wrong information. The fleet might end up with passenger size tires that don’t have the durability built into them. So the dealer could be saving someone a buck on the front end, and cost them more on the back end."
Barker said commercial light truck accounts are also more receptive. "These customers tend to be less knowledgeable about tires, so they need solid advice that helps keep their vehicles up and running and reduces tire costs," he said. "And they tend to be less demanding than larger truck fleets, easier to work with and more accepting of help."
Besides obvious tire sales opportunities, most of these types of fleets also need vehicle service. "It makes a lot of sense to develop a package that includes vehicle service, tires and tire maintenance," said Barker. "These type of fleets don’t have on-site mechanics, so they end up using local shops anyway. So why not you?"
Most of the dealers interested in getting into the commercial light truck business can already perform most of the vehicle services," said Walenga. "But they think of it as ‘If they bring it to me and it’s busted, I can fix it.’ If they thought like a commercial dealer, they’re going to offer a fleet a package deal on tires and service. That’s the way commercial people are thinking. Any dealer can do this."
Walenga said it’s important to remember the prospective customer’s limitations. "These type of fleets can’t hire a maintenance manager," he said. "So he can be shown to depend on the tire dealer as his fleet maintenance manager, not just tire provider or tire maintenance provider but as his truck maintenance provider as well. This allows the dealer to step into the whole ball of wax and control it, and document it, and send out monthly billings."
Commercial light truck tire opportunities are everywhere, and a dealer doesn’t have to look hard to find them. "Down here in Nashville there are a couple dozen small plumbing companies, and every one of them has five or more trucks," Walenga said. "And that’s a time sensitive business. Those trucks can’t be down for a flat tire. Boy, what an opportunity. What about the company that delivers bakery? What about taxi cabs, small electrical service companies and contractors, construction companies?
"The top end of this segment is going to be the downsized vehicles for overnight delivery and stuff like that. But those are the big names. What about trucks for municipalities and for the power and gas companies? These are huge fleets. A lot of them are using commercial tire sizes, but a lot of them, because of expenses, are downsizing the type of vehicle they use. Now many of them are more car-like than truck-like."
Recent proliferation in light truck and SUV tire sizes make dealer involvement even more critical to commercial light truck fleets. "More and more people are coming in to retailers with larger size tires," said Barker. "Pickups and SUVs are getting bigger and bigger every year. We consider 19.5 to be a truck tire, but its showing up more and more on larger pickups and SUVs."
Barker suggested that dealers should be aware of the differences in adjustment programs between commercial light truck tires and passenger/light truck tires. "They are often much different, and a dealer could cause some problems assuming they’re basically the same," he said.
Also, retail dealers getting into this segment have to be aware of even the little things, like air pressure. "Commercial light truck tires, like the 19.5 sizes, take considerably more air than standard passenger or LT/SUV tire sizes," said Barker.
Both men also said dealers wanting to seriously enter this segment should inventory their equipment needs. Tire changers and balancers have to be able to handle larger tire sizes. Tire repair materials and tools may also be different from passenger and light truck tires.
"I wouldn’t expect a dealer to get into retreading, but I would expect him to tie in with a local retreader to be able to provide and broker retread services," said Walenga.
"And a dealer may need to get into a light duty service truck, with a compressor, jacks, tools, and safety equipment. With a properly outfitted truck, the dealer can do on-site inspection, maintenance and service with a couple of guys and a couple of hours. And handle on-road problems," said Walenga.
Some tire companies offer programs to help dealers obtain service equipment and trucks. Walenga recommends talking with your sales rep to see what programs may be available.