Software Programs Can Benefit Dealers – If They’re Willing to Listen
By now, everyone has heard about tire dealers and their relationship with computers, the Internet and software packages. Most have them, many are afraid of them, and some don’t want anything to do with them.
Having a computer in your shop is arguably as necessary as having a lift or alignment rack. While the Internet is considered a luxury by some and a necessity by others, tire dealers still have POS and back office requirements that a computer and the right software can simplify.
There are many software packages, specifically the ones that handle day-to-day operations of a tire dealership, already available today. Dealers can use these programs for simple things, such as printing invoices, doing basic accounting or scheduling appointments. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. A great many of these programs are designed to handle more complex tasks, such as inventory management, vehicle history, direct mail programs.
Software programs have evolved into dynamic tools that can help dealers in countless ways, always with a focus on saving time, money or both. They should rank in importance with alignment racks. But they don’t.
While it’s hard to find a dealer who doesn’t have a tire changer, it’s not as hard to find one who doesn’t have a software program helping to run his shop. Sure, many dealers have something (or someone) that handles aspects of the shop’s operations. But there are those dealers who don’t want anything to do with higher end software programs.
They can be expensive, and some dealers don’t want to spend the money. They can be tough to use and get used to, and some dealers don’t want to take the time. They can change the entire way you do business, and some dealers don’t like change.
But in today’s tire world, computer software systems have become a necessity.
|what they offer…
"Our standard tire dealer software solution may include any combination of the following pieces: QDS TireMaster, RoadWare, and RoadWarrior, as well as partner offerings from industry leaders like MechanicNet, ESP, Pen Soft and CCITriad. The software products are easy to install. However, the amount of information and how you configure that business information will determine the extent to which it provides value to a dealer’s business. The QDS Business Lab offers training on a variety of topics from technical to accounting.
– Brian Critchfield, global sales marketing manager
Changer, Balancer, Software
In today’s business world – and the world in general – products and equipment that can simplify operations, and save time and money, are necessary. Dealers don’t have antiquated tire balancers is their shops because that equipment hurts them in the long run. Ditto having bubble balancers or passenger tire tubes.
So why would a dealer take pad and pencil out to tally up the day’s receipts? Or not have a vehicle history file for each customer? Or have not a thorough inventory rundown? Or not have a targeted mailing program in place?
"The dealer’s business is based on data, and they need quick access to that data to get the total picture of where their business is at any point, "said Brian Critchfield, global sales marketing manager for QDS. "Software is a tool. Just as they will buy an alignment machine to generate profitable business, information solutions are a tool to improve profitability and efficiency."
Some dealers don’t understand how important these systems can be or why they need them.
"It’s simple: time and information management," said Mike Andreoli, president of Andreoli & Associates Inc. "Margins are thinner and competition is keener than ever, so a dealer has to be much more efficient than ever.
"Being more efficient gives a dealer more control over his operations and enables him to provide more attentive customer service. The dealer who gives his customers the perception of good customer service will be rewarded with repeat business."
Software companies will tell you that their programs can help dealers with every facet of their business. And while the programs can’t pick out the right employee for you to hire, they can do many equally vital things. Including serving as a sales associate.
Take SoftWheels, for instance. The program allows customers to see how different wheel sizes and styles will look on their car or truck, saving the dealer valuable time and money.
"SoftWheels will help entice new customers to visit the dealer," said Steve Duff, sales and customer support for AutoWare Technologies, of his company’s product. "Word gets around that now a wheel buyer can preview different wheel styles on his car prior to making a purchasing decision and this results in increased traffic and sales."
|what they offer…
"TireShop is a new product developed specifically for compatibility with Windows XP. Its strengths are superior ease-of-use, high efficiency order entry, and easy customization. It features mouseless operation, Palm and Windows CE synchronization, and compatibility with the new ‘Tablet PCs’ for car-side order entry. It is built from the ground up for unlimited seamless multi-store operation, yet is also well-suited for the smallest single store operator."
– Jim Yelverton, president
Spreading the Word
Just like a tire dealer, software companies have to let their prospective customers (tire dealers) know they’re out there.
"We maintain a presence with trade advertising," said Andreoli. "This keeps our name in the marketplace and we find that we receive about 25% of our leads through this media. The other 75% comes from other sources like word-of-mouth, referrals, and state associations."
Word of mouth is a big part of how software companies get the word out. "The No.1 way we find clients is by customer referrals," said Dave Duchesne, national sales manager for ASA Tire Systems. "That’s the highest percentage. We also have regular mailing programs, and we do telemarketing and some advertising, as well."
New software companies face a harder road to get through to dealers. "We’re a new company and are just now establishing our sales efforts," said Jim Yelverton, with FreedomSoft, which produces TireSoft. "We plan to reach customers through direct mail and e-mail, with advertising through national trade magazines and an Internet presence with links from as many related sites as possible, through trade show and state dealer association meetings, and with direct contact through regional field representatives."
|what they offer…
Opening the Door
Sometimes, the most interaction dealers have with computers and software is when they go on-line, check e-mails or play a game of solitaire.
Dealers have been slow to embrace computers and technology. Maybe they don’t have time, don’t have the money, or just don’t feel comfortable with them.
"The thing I find is that those people are afraid and don’t have an understanding of what these software programs can do for them," Duchesne said. "Or, they think their older veteran employees can’t adapt to change.
"But these dealers are spending so much time doing things manually, they can’t do everything they want to. If they are posting every invoice manually, there’s going to be mistakes and they don’t have time to run effective marketing plans. Plus, most of these dealers are paying an accountant for basic bookkeeping, another function software can perform."
"Some dealers are from the ‘old school’ and don’t understand the many benefits of good business software," said Duff. "Others want to integrate computers into their business but may procrastinate due to computer illiteracy or the cost of purchasing computers and/or software.
"But once they cross that bridge, they never go back. User-friendly software can help the dealer to ease into the computer age with little or no discomfort. And if he shops around, he can purchase a computer at a reasonable cost."
One reason dealers choose a basic system instead of going with an all-encompassing package is ease-of-use. It’s tough to fault a hard-working dealer for not taking the time to work through new software, even if, in the long run, it would free up time and even save him money.
"Some dealers don’t embrace software because they don’t understand how technology can help them," said Critchfield. "There is a lot of trust and work involved in setting up their business information to work most effectively for them, and it is an up-front investment that can mean the world to their business."
Dealers can also be confused by tire company-provided services and true business operation software.
"Supplier systems and dealer business management systems are as different as night and day," said Andreoli. "Often suppliers make access to their systems free, so other than a minimal computer and an Internet connection, the dealer has little investment. Supplier connection systems are ‘ready-to-use’. And once a dealer connects, he can place inquiries on products and place orders.
"A dealer business management system is more expensive and requires more up-front work on the dealer’s part. For instance, he’ll need to set up his inventory and customer information before he can even start using the system.
"We understand that dealers are already working long days and are not anxious to take on a big project. Purchasing and implementing a computer system is complex and costly, and it’s normally something a dealer knows the least about," he said.
"The dealer has to put a lot of trust in the hands of the software salesperson, and they are naturally hesitant to make decisions given those circumstances. That’s why we believe so much software is sold as a result of referrals."
|what they offer…
Andreoli & Associates Inc.
Getting Them to Listen
There are plenty of tire dealers who are scared of technology. That’s true for people in general. Just think about the number of blinking VCR clocks out there. But technology is necessary, and despite their fears, many are now applying it to their businesses.
There are some who refuse technology altogether, who keep their entire inventory in their heads or on cards, and never take a day off because the business won’t survive without them.
What do software companies tell a tire dealer who says he doesn’t need these fancy software packages?
"Don’t buy it," said Andreoli. "A dealer has to be committed and believe that automating is the right decision for him and that our combination of product and service is best suited to his needs. If he’s not committed, don’t buy it."
"We tell a dealer that it’s not all about software, it’s about the right information being utilized at the right time," said QDS’s Critchfield. "Software, hardware, training, consulting, and support are merely the vehicles used to deliver it. If the dealer is not comfortable with a particular software tool we offer, there are many other areas in which we can help his business."
Many times, dealers decide to pass on a software package without ever having seen it in the first place. "If a dealer hasn’t seen our software he cannot objectively make this judgment," said FreedomSoft’s Yelverton. "In order to persuade the dealer to give us a look, we talk about the practical benefits rather than the technical merits of our product."
It’s not possible to break down every single wall that stands in the way. But there is one argument that does seem to hold a lot of water, that of profitability.
"I tell them that every day they are not running our software costs them money," said AutoWare’s Duff. "With our software, the dealer saves not only time – and time is money – but also hard costs of excessive wheel displays and inventory. Customers say our software pays for itself in the first month or two."
Duchesne from ASA agrees completely. "We can point to case studies of our clients with similar-sized businesses and show that they have saved time and increased gross profit dollars by using our software," he said. "Naturally, we don’t guarantee an increase in profit, but if a dealer increases gross profit by a certain percentage, isn’t that worth it?"
There are plenty of products on the market today that can help increase a tire dealer’s profit. All it takes is a bit of trust and effort. The ROI for everyone is different, but the results will be evident – if only in freeing up time to get more done.
So, the next time a computer software salesman comes calling, don’t turn a deaf ear right away. He just might be bringing a streamlined approach and more profit with him.