In June 2016, when Sears Holding Corp. announced it was attaching its iconic DieHard brand name to tires, the president of Sears Auto Centers told Modern Tire Dealer, “We will learn a lot over the next 18 months about the acceptance of the brand.”
Brian Kaner provided a good time line, but he didn’t keep his job as leader of Sears Auto Centers long enough to see the result.
Eight months after the tire launch, the company attached the DieHard name to a pilot retail concept. The first DieHard Auto Center Driven by Sears opened in February in a defunct Sears Auto location in San Antonio. Six months later, Sears opened two more DieHard Auto Centers in the Detroit area.
The existing Sears Auto mall stores in Troy, Mich., and Roseville, Mich., have three times the number of bays as the store in Texas. Storage spaces were renovated into modern-looking showrooms so the Michigan stores never lost a day of operations. They closed one night as Sears Auto Centers and opened the next morning with the DieHard name. New entrances directed consumers into the new showrooms. The old showrooms are used for storage.
So how is business? “Based on what you’re seeing, with one (store) in San Antonio and two in Michigan, obviously we love the concept, and we continue to learn and get smarter every time we do it. It’s very exciting for us, and you will see more,” says Jon Otterberg, president of Sears Auto Centers since April.
He says the DieHard stores combine the products and services consumers know and trust with an “all new DieHard Auto Center experience, which is a very relaxing and incredible place.” The stores feature interactive, digital displays as well as a tire wall where consumers can examine products. The stores sell DieHard tires, as well as others, including Michelin, Goodyear and Continental brands.
On the service side, all Sears stores utilize Hunter Engineering Co.’s Quick Check system, though Sears calls it the Performance One Stop. It provides a report on the vehicle’s alignment, battery performance and tire tread depth, plus a diagnostic check.
“It’s all about changing the member experience,” Otterberg says, “to interact with them and educate them in a welcoming, friendly environment.”
The look of the stores is important on multiple levels. Otterberg says the clean, wide-open space is attractive to younger customers, which is helping the company balance against its traditionally older clientele. “I don’t want to say it looks like a Starbucks, but it’s pretty nice.”
Tom Park, president of the Kenmore, Craftsman and DieHard Division, says the updated look was needed to match the brand perception. “DieHard is known as one of the most respected and best brands in the country. If we’re going to put the DieHard name on the front of the store, everything from the service you get to the products you buy to the experience that the customer has must be in line with the brand identity.”
Otterberg and Park say it didn’t take long for the DieHard Silver Touring A/S tire to take a prominent spot in Sears’ sales. “Since we launched the tire in August of 2016 it has become the No. 2 unit selling brand in our lineup,” Otterberg says.
“And it became that in the first six months,” says Park. “It rose to that level and enabled the future development of the full line of tires. It’s been really well received by our customers.”
Philip Philip, general manager of the DieHard brand, says the company is working to expand the DieHard lineup into the performance, ultra-high performance and light truck categories. So could commercial tires come next?
“Our tire expansion focus for DieHard is performance and light truck up to 1 ton,” says Park. “Our future focus beyond performance and light truck could include OTR and TBR tires.”
Officials declined to map out a time line for future releases of any new products.