There’s no question about it – the world is going mobile. And so should your business.
While that mostly means mobile communication like text message marketing and a mobile-friendly website, there’s another on-the-go trend infiltrating the tire industry.
Mobile repair units – trucks or vans outfitted with tire repair, mounting and balancing equipment – are growing in popularity. Whether it’s an additional option offered by a brick-and-mortar tire shop or a 100% mobile service fleet, the trend is spreading.
If you haven’t weighed the options, it’s worth consideration – after all, what customer wouldn’t find it appealing to avoid a trip to the tire store, opting instead to have their new rubber installed in their driveway or workplace parking lot?
Perhaps most common and most familiar are commercial or agricultural tire service units. Keeping drivers on the road and farmers in the field is the ultimate goal with truck and ag customers, and scores of dealers in certain regions of the country have capitalized on this opportunity.
In order to attract new commercial accounts, as well as further enhance its value proposition to existing accounts, Cary, N.C.-based Atlantic Tire & Service established its mobile division in 2007.
“By going to their place of business and servicing fleets onsite, we’re able to save hours – if not days – that it may take for our customers or our employees shuttling vehicles back and forth to our locations,” says president Anthony Blackman. “We also were looking to grow our retail business capacity by launching our mobile service. Moving some of our commercial work offsite helped in expanding capacity and freeing up bays that could be used by retail customers or commercial accounts with a limited number of fleet vehicles.”
The shop’s three mobile units, each used daily, offer installation, balancing, rotations and flat repair on any size tire, in addition to a host of vehicle service ranging from simple oil changes and fluid service to brake work, cooling system service, and alternator, battery and starter replacement.
“We have had tremendous feedback over the years,” Blackman says. “We started with one truck initially and have grown to three trucks due to demand. We regularly ask for feedback on these services and we’ve only had positive reviews. We hope to continue to expand these services as demand increases.”
The mobile units – box trucks with the mobile division logo branded on the vehicle – are emblazoned with eye-catching graphics as well as contact information, but “they are done tastefully to match our other corporate branding,” Blackman notes.
“We have worked with a public relations, marketing and advertising agency for more than a decade and they assist us with rolling out all of our new product and service offerings,” he says, adding the agency was instrumental in creating a marketing plan at the time of the mobile division launch.
“They created a nice folder and sales inserts that our associates can customize as needed based on the type of client we’re trying to capture. They also use email marketing, social media, direct mail and other mediums to grow our brand and share our story.”
Expanding to Retail
Whether it’s to compete with mobile-only companies that are starting to flood the U.S. market or to offer an added service that’s unique to your community, a relatively newer option is to create mobile service units specifically for passenger, light truck and SUV/CUV vehicles.
Kenwood Tire & Auto Service, located in Bridgewater, Mass., recently launched a revamped mobile repair service for its retail customers.
“I’ve always looked for new ways to be unique,” says owner Spencer Carruthers. “We’re in a small town, we have a good reputation and a lot of loyal customers. This is part of the market that’s missing.”
He says the dealership had attempted to go mobile in the past, but its strategy needed a little fine-tuning.
“In 2004, I started Kenwood Tire Mobile, which was a trailer hauled by a Suburban that went to people’s homes and businesses to perform mobile tire service. The problem was that it was big – a 24-foot trailer – so it really wasn’t very versatile. It didn’t develop as I wanted it to; it became more of a vehicle we took to car shows to sell items or technical schools to offer automotive classes.”
The trailer ended up becoming more of a public relations tool than a true mobile tire service unit – which was very valuable, Carruthers notes – but he determined it needed to be more versatile in order to offer mobile service.
The current unit, a Sprinter van, was included in Carruthers’ business plan for 2013 “as a way for us – a small, independent dealer – to offer something that car dealers and tire chains don’t offer.”
“We were losing tire share, so I tried to think of a way I could take back the tire business. I didn’t want to get more heavily into automotive service; the whole plan was to get back to our roots and sell tires.”
Carruthers originally planned for a separate business that would run independently of Kenwood Tire, but realized during development that it would be most beneficial to capitalize on his shop’s established name and reputation. And thus, the new and improved Kenwood Tire Mobile was born.
Careful not to overpromise and under-deliver, Carruthers said he “started small” with the mobile service. Offered to customers as an added option, the unit travels within a 10-mile radius, carries an added $49 service charge, and does strictly tire work. He uses social media, as well as Google AdWords, to target a 10-mile radius around Kenwood Tire.
“This wasn’t a big cost for me so there isn’t a lot of pressure to make it work right away,” Carruthers says. “I’d rather take the time to find the right market for it than rush into it. Right now, we’re targeting retail customers and some of our small fleets.”
“One of our first customers was a gentleman who had a 1953 Ford Crestline that he couldn’t bring into the store,” he recalls. “So we got there and did the job – the car had wire wheels and tubes – and he was thrilled. He said it was worth every cent of $49.”
While Atlantic and Kenwood custom-built their mobile units, another option to weigh is purchasing a complete, ready-to-go mobile unit, like those offered by GoTireVans, for example.
GoTireVans, a division of Red Deer, Alberta-based GoTire Inc., provides custom mobile service vans that offer tire/wheel service, auto glass repair and replacement, battery service, fleet maintenance, and detailing.
Well-established in Canada, the company entered the U.S. market earlier this year when it signed Scott Blair, owner of WheelWorks Inc. in Mobile, Ala., as the first U.S. distributor for its mobile tire service van concept. Blair has served as the company’s TIA Certified ATS instructor since 2012.
Blair works with individuals to create a new business or expand an existing brick-and-mortar shop into mobile service, according to Craig Howes, GoTire president and CEO.
“This is a direct way to increase the level of service, both technically and from a customer service standpoint, offered by existing dealers,” Howes says. “We see a 75% to 100% retention rate of the customer base; when you have that kind of retention, your growth year over year is substantial.”
He says that GoTireVans has more than $2.5 million of research and development in the design and build of its Sprinter vans, which the company builds to spec for individual clients.
“Dealers probably could outfit a vehicle on their own, but with our buying power and build quality, we know that buying a van from us is probably $60,000 to $75,000 less than building their own,” Howes says.
“There are a lot of variables involved in creating a van. You can throw a generator into the back of a van and go, but there’s so much else to consider, including health and safety, service opportunities, longevity of the setup, customer retention, equipment capabilities and redundancies required to complete a job in case of equipment failure.”
According to Blair, since GoTireVans is not a franchise, “both entrepreneurs and existing businesses can market their own brand and expand their markets without the difficulties and expense of building a brick-and-mortar location.”
“Before mobile service, consumers had to work around a dealer’s schedule,” he adds. “With mobile service, we schedule 24-48 hours in advance so that we can service the consumer when it is convenient for them, whether at work, home or after hours while watching their children play sports. This time is more valuable for our customers than shopping the cheapest price around.”
Howes adds that GoTireVans will soon launch an entirely new concept in the U.S. with Tire Force, a complete mobile service network that incorporates software, training, touch- screen kiosks, a locator service and more.
“We’ll be launching that product within the year,” he says. “We’re aligning with certain retailers in the industry and creating a network concept. Basically, it’s a combined service network that drives work to our clients from a customer’s search for mobile service.”
GoTireVans clients will have the option of simply purchasing a mobile service van, or paying a subscription fee to be a part of the Tire Force network.
Retail or commercial, do-it-yourself or complete package, the on-the-go lifestyle of U.S. drivers means mobile service is likely here to stay.
The added recognition and profits that a mobile service division can bring your tire dealership just may be worth the expense.