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Editor's Notebook

Setting the Stage

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As the new editor of Tire Review, it’s a true privilege to be in this role, serving the tire industry and its members with the information you need most to be stay ahead and stay successful. To quote my predecessor, the late Jim Smith, “This is your magazine. We are simply its caretaker.”

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In the pages that follow, you’ll see a wide variety of stories of up-and-coming leaders, rising stars within their companies and communities. We named it Club 3633, the patent number for the vulcanization of rubber by Charles Goodyear. (We played with other names around the idea that our industry stems from the discovery of vulcanization, but “Club Vulcan” sounded a bit too much like Star Trek.) It’s nice to be part of the club.

Writing and reviewing these profiles reminds me that the work we do each day – our personal commitment to excellence – contributes to the good of others. It also makes me appreciate my own early mentors and influencers, including former Tire Review publisher Tom B. Babcox and former Auto Care Association CEO Kathleen Schmatz. Heck, I even gave Northwood’s Brian Cruickshank his first job out of college. Needless to say, it’s great to be back.

You’ll also learn about customer-experience retail innovations currently being tested at company-owned dealer locations, namely Bridgestone/Firestone and Goodyear stores. (Be sure to check out TireReview.com for additional detail on this and other industry news.)

As a former retailer and customer-centric marketer, I found the similarities and the contrasts of approach between the two iconic brands fascinating. Before I give you my take about it, allow me to share a little about my background to provide a bit of context.

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Back in 1997, after five years in the automotive aftermarket media (then editor of the newly launched Underhood Service magazine), I decided to stay home with my newborn and I started a side business. Not long after leaving Babcox, my little at-home business quickly grew into retail space. Year after year we expanded. Soon I was operating three specialty shops, raising two boys and sharing marketing advice with an entrepreneur group (similar to a 20 group).

My first location was across from a famous gourmet grocery store, founded well before specialty food markets were cool. The iconic store had been reinvented from its original corner-grocer concept by its second-generation owner, Russ Vernon. It became nationally known for exceptional service and quality – complete with young men in aprons whose job was to carry your grocery bags to the car for you. Before I opened shop, Mr. Vernon stopped in to check on me and see how my buildout was going. I confided in him that I was a little frustrated, concerned that my vision did not necessarily match my funds available to make it happen.

He gave me advice that I’ll never forget. He said, “Patti, always remember that retail is theatre,” he said. “It’s an experience. You are the director; the performance begins when your customer enters the door. You decide what kind of experience they’ll have. You set the stage. Good or bad, the performance happens. The secret is to make it memorable.”

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Making it memorable became less about the money and more about the exchange of value and connection between individuals. While Goodyear and Bridgestone may have invested thousands into new designs, equipment and treatments (neither would reveal how much they spent), even the most shoe-string operation can create an environment customers prefer and appreciate.

Though you may see the tire business as selling what’s black, round and rubber – you’re still selling an experience. In fact, what you’re actually selling is Confidence and Convenience.

As you evaluate your business through that lens of Confidence and Convenience, let’s explore how you can cost-efficiently improve your current operation as soon as this week.

Confidence

They say that trust is earned in drops and lost in buckets.

To build confidence, each customer interaction should be considered a tiny contract. “Your car should be ready in about an hour.” That time estimate becomes a contract in the mind of the customer – one that they may be counting on you to fulfill while they juggle the other 17 things they have to do that day before dinner. This may be why Goodyear’s test store has a policy to check back with the customer every 20 minutes with a status on the repair. It’s something you can be doing as well. Your words (even on “guestimates”) are your contract; don’t break it. Open communication is key.

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Transparency also builds confidence. While you may not be ready to replace waiting-room walls with plate glass windows for full visibility, you can train your staff to be more consultative with customers like they are at the Bridgestone location, to step through each repair, take photos of the before and after, have links to video or images on an iPad to detail how the vehicle system works and why the work was required, etc.

Being open and clear regarding the work performed is an opportunity to build value. “We rotated your tires and found that your front end was out of alignment so we adjusted that at no charge for you today. That should save you a bunch of money in the long run since your tires will last longer. Be sure to come back and see us in October so we can check it again before the weather changes.” The result is a happy returning customer.

Convenience

If you make things easy for your customer or add value to an “ordinary” service experience, be sure to tell people about it. Don’t be shy. They’re busy and may not notice – or they may not know well enough to have an expectation, to fully understand what a treat it is you’re providing. Everything from free Wi-Fi to free bottles of water to charging stations for their cell phone – highlight the ways you make it easy on customers during the inconvenience of waiting. And if you do extra services for them – like adjusting their alignment or cleaning their floor mats – be sure to tell them what you did and how it helps.

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Small details and nice touches can help create a memorable customer experience, increasing customer lifetime value. Just be sure to keep the customer at center stage.

I look forward to putting you, our reader, at center stage as well. Feel free to contact me with your ideas, stories and challenges at [email protected]

To your success!

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