The Best of Both Worlds
‘The majority of people come in for both Tires and Service’
This is the 10th installment of Tire Review’s Dealer Diary, a year-long series showcasing a typical tire dealer, his business, how he runs it, the many issues he deals with, and his thoughts on the industry in general.
This year’s Dealer Diary series, written by Managing Editor Craig Gifford, has featured two different tire dealers, alternating between one focused primarily on the retail side, and another that handles mainly commercial accounts.
We’d love to hear your comments on this series. Send us an e-mail at [email protected]. Profiled in this installment is Jeff Hill, the retail sales manager of North Gateway Tire, located in Medina, Ohio.
Tire dealers have a very good understanding of the value of offering automotive service to their customers. Service is a natural profit center, and tires are a natural lead to service because so much is revealed once the tire/wheel assembly comes off.
And, not only can automotive service lead to immediate profits, it can also lead to a long-term client base. Providing superior service will guarantee return business from satisfied customers. Going the extra mile to point out potential problems especially before they become costly ones ®“ is a major plus that will lead to trust and loyalty.
But in your customers’ eyes, what does your business do? Do you just sell tires, or just fix cars? Or do they clearly understand that you offer both?
“I think the majority of the people that come to North Gateway Tire come in for both reasons,” said Jeff Hill about whether his customer mix is primarily automotive service- or tire sales-oriented. ®Our customers find out that we’re real good at what we do, and that we stand behind our work and our prices.
“We do have some people who come in only for service, but then they usually end up noticing that we do tires and let us do that work, too,” he said.
Perception vs. Reality
Convincing customers you’re about more than just rubber, or more than just vehicle repair can pose problems. People have a habit of seeing the word “tire” in the name of your business and they forget you offer complete undercar or underhood service, as well. Combating those perceptions will take a little extra effort on your part.
“I think that some people see a tire shop in the name ‘North Gateway Tire,’” Hill said. ®But sometimes we refer to ourselves as ‘North Gateway Tire and Service.’ It’s just a way of letting customers know what you offer.
“I try to keep the tire and service mix on an even keel, and include the service work, as well. Let us check the struts and brakes. We try to keep the service in front of their face just to let the customers know what we can handle.”
Undercar or Underhood?
Handling automotive service can really stretch a dealer in several directions. Undercar and underhood work are two different animals. Underhood service involves ever-changing engines and powertrains, complex computer systems, heavy training and expensive diagnostic equipment.
Many dealers find undercar especially brake and front-end work, is easier to handle, and more connected to their core business ®“ tires. Having the ability to correct the problems while the car is on the rack and the wheels are off will only lead to more profits.
At the same time, being able to take care of anything that can go wrong with a vehicle can be the best way to serve your market. Your customers’ needs will dictate the direction you need to consider.
“We do anything from rack and pinion to CV axles, brakes, struts and shocks,” Hill said. ®Basically, we do anything that’s involved in undercar service and anything that has to do with the suspension and braking systems.® Hill said. North Gateway will do some underhood work, like alternators, batteries and oil changes. But Hill recognizes North Gateway Tire’s limited when it comes to vehicle repair.
“Things like driveability issues we simply don’t get into,” he said. ®It’s another specialty area, and with today’s vehicles you have to constantly update your equipment and training. You have to have someone who really understands all of today’s vehicles, and we just don’t want to get into that.®
The reason for undercar specialization is simple there are more technicians qualified to handle that kind of thing. “We just didn’t want to have guys who knew a little bit about a lot of things,” Hill said. ®We wanted technicians who knew a lot about specific areas.®
Of course, the secret to good automotive service is the technician. And there is something to be said for a quality-trained individual, and not some self-taught, learned-everything-I-need-to-know-on-the-job mechanic who can cost a dealership profits. That’s why North Gateway Tire stresses training, training and more training.
“All of our techs are ASE-certified. I have one guy who is a trainee, but he’ll be certified soon,” said Hill. ®I think that it’s invaluable for a tech to get as much training as possible and that you know he’s passed.
“In the end, nothing beats hands-on training,” he said. ®The tech can be an ace on paper, but he has to be able to do the job in the field.®
Hill and North Gateway offer in-shop training programs, but aren’t afraid to send their techs to training centers across the country. In Hill’s mind, there’s nothing wrong with going out-of-state to pick up some more knowledge.
Tires Drive Service
While the secret to good auto service lies in the technicians, something still has to get the customers in the door and their vehicles in the bays. And that means determining which is the big draw, the auto service or the tire sales. Sometimes, it’s easier to determine which came first, the chicken or the egg.
“I think that our tire sales are what definitely attracts any of our service business,” said Hill. ®With the tire work, you have the opportunity to take the tire/wheel assembly apart and that gives you a chance to really look everything over. But as to what brings people in the door, it’s more of a combination. If you get a customer that has a vibration problem it could be in the parts or it could be the tires.®
Another trick to automotive service is backing the parts and the work. What’s the use in doing all that work and having a disgruntled come back even more unhappy because there’s no warranty?
“Everything we do is guaranteed for life. We have a one-year warranty on labor, but the parts are guaranteed for life,” said Hill. ®Some places will advertise that they’re the best in town, but the warranty doesn’t cover anything. You’ve got to be able to back up your work.®
Any dealer can tell you a whole other world of profits is waiting when it comes to automotive service. But if you’re going to provide that kind of work, you don’t want to go half way. Using certified technicians and the most up-to-date methods and equipment, backing everything you do and knowing your limitations is what will generate the extra cash. Not just hanging a sign and keeping some parts around.
Tire Review is deeply appreciative and indebted to Jeff Hill, Darrel Hill, Tom Beattie and the entire staff of North Gateway Tire for their support, involvement and openness in providing interviews and material for the Dealer Diary series. We wish everyone associated with North Gateway Tire nothing but the best. Thanks guys.®′