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Students Reinvent the Tire Store

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If you had it to do all over again, what would your tire store look like? How would it function? What would it feature? Would you go with the “that’s how it’s always been done” approach, or would you transcend “tradition” and look to capture customers with a new and unique approach?

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If you had an vacant plot of land and an open checkbook, what would your imagination create?

We recently posed a similar question to a group of college students – second year design students, to be precise. Instead of land we gave them a completely blank sheet of paper, and asked for their vision, their ideas of what a tire store should be. The only provisions? Store concepts had to easily permit the sale of tires and vehicle services, and because of the technical aspects involved, they did not need to specifically address service bays, only the customer-facing elements.

The work of some of these Kent State University College of Architecture and Environmental Design students appears in this issue starting on page 38; more designs are available for viewing at tirereviewdigital.com.

With the help Dr. Pamela Evans, director of the interior design program; Dr. William Willoughby, associate dean of the College of Architecture and Environmental Design; and Jill Lahrmer, an instructor in the interior design program, we were able to turn a story idea into a university project. The students not only created some absolutely brilliant concepts, they also earned valuable experience and grades.

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When we started this project last fall, we really didn’t know what to expect. Even after Dr. Evans agreed to work with us, our vision was to have a small group of students working on the project outside of class. Her vision was a substantial improvement.

In early April, we met with the students to outline the project. Less than 30 days later, we sat for formal presentations of the best ideas and designs offered in the now-official class project.

We were totally blown away.

The depth of thought and thoughtfulness was amazing. There were designs to show how much store one could pack into a postage-stamp size urban lot. There were more impressive structures and spaces for a rural setting. And there were neighborhood friendly, blended suburban concepts.

None were overly futuristic in any way; every design and feature concept could be done tomorrow by any dealer anywhere.

As car owners, nearly all of the students had first-hand experience in a tire store. None enjoyed the ride.

“Filthy.” “Uninviting.” “Painful.” “Smelly.” And a few other descriptors were offered.

Those who had visited more than one tire shop in their lives noted the sameness and one-dimensionality of the locations. And how the stores were not keeping pace with the retail world they saw, and were losing a real opportunity to make a real connection with customers.

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Unshackled from “tradition” and unburdened by budgets, for these bright students it was all about “why not.” Why not create a store that engages more than your daily customer base? Why not invite the community to be a part of your space?
Why not have a vegetable and herb garden on the roof to supply a small short-menu, in-store café that could feed breakfast and lunch fare to both tire/service customers as well as workers from nearby businesses?

Why not provide a bank of courtesy bicycles for customers to use? Or wire into the ride-sharing service Zipcar?

Why not include an in-store health club so that early-riser customers can get a quick workout in after dropping off their vehicle? And for employees to help keep them healthy? Or even just for locals to use?

Why not eliminate the front counter, that massive wall that separates you from the customer, and even the pods many dealers now favor? Why not do business like an Apple store, with your sales staff toting tablet computers loaded with tire information and credit card readers?

Why not have customer-waiting areas with not only free Wi-Fi but also private workstations with desktop computers? Or larger customer spaces that could also be used by local community groups for meetings?

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And, here’s one for the tiremakers: Why not leverage available video game technology to create a driving simulator that would allow customers to “test drive” different tires in different driving conditions? A number of the students made that suggestion, and were shocked that in the age of PlayStation 4 such didn’t already exist.

The ideas of community, of multi-purpose, of innovation, of what could be ran through their designs, from textured wall coverings and vivid un-tire store colors to creating a spa-like calming experience as counterbalance to the bustle of everyday life and the natural irritation connected to tire buys and car repairs.

There’s is a tremendous vision of what a retail tire store could – or should – be.

As the next generation – the Millennials – becomes the preeminent consumer group, independent tire dealers are going to need new ways to connect with and hold onto customers. The expectations are far different than those of Boomers, and their loyalty is far thinner. Brick-n-mortar tire stores are not places they’d wish to visit, not with so many other less-painful options.

A customer-focused attitude is one thing, but how much stronger would the connection be if Millennial customers saw you as something more than a tire peddler?

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What if instead of being considered only when needed that your store could be a community focal point, sort of a 21st century barbershop, a gathering place where business and personal relationships could thrive. Where the opportunity for experiences is as important as an oil change special or BOGO tire deal?

We hope that you come away inspired and perhaps consider some of their concepts.

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