There are some 30,000 independent tire dealerships in the United States. The majority of you are one-store operations.
Yet despite continued competition from mass merchandisers, warehouse clubs, car dealerships and tire company owned stores, you remain the dominant force in tire distribution. The personal relationship you develop with your customers is the main reason you remain the best place to buy tires. Another is your creativity.
Just when you think there are no more ways to go to market, visionaries find a way. Tom Pumpelly elevated the customer experience when he founded NTW Inc. in 1971. Mike Joines and the late Peter Veldman created the mail-order tire business in 1979 with Tire Rack Inc.
The Mueller brothers, Dean and Scott, sold their very successful upscale tire chain, Mueller Tire and Brake, in 2001 to focus on supplying tires solely to auto dealerships. The result was Dealer Tire LLC.
The latest independent tire dealer to try something new is Claus Ettensberger, owner of P Zero World in Los Angeles. His goal is to sell Pirelli P Zero tires to everyone who steps into his store. For now, that’s the only tire he stocks.
It is the first of what Pirelli & Cie SpA executives hope is a global chain of tire shops focused on prestige products and services in markets known for their high concentration of luxury and sports cars. They believe they have found another way to leverage the Pirelli brand.
The concept is the brainchild of Paul Hembery, Pirelli’s global motorsports and prestige project director. It was brought to life with the help of Rafael Navarro, senior vice president of media relations, motorsports and prestige activation for Pirelli Tire North America Inc., and Matteo Barbieri, who heads up prestige activation at Pirelli headquarters in Milan, Italy.
It is truly a partnership between Pirelli and Ettensberger, who acts as landlord to Pirelli’s West Coast headquarters. But make no mistake: Ettensberger runs the show. It is his profit center. P Zero World will survive or fail based on his aftermarket expertise, which is extensive.He opened CEC Wheels in 1990 when there was big demand for custom wheels and aerodynamic vehicle packages.
He sold a lot of chrome-plated and 20- to 22-inch wheels to car dealers. Today, they get them from the factory. “They kind of grabbed that business for themselves.”
Ettensberger adapted by adding tires to his wheel and accessory boutique. “The aftermarket world gets smaller and smaller, but there’s always the need for a tire, just like you need shoes. And therefore, this was a great marriage with Pirelli. We have taken it to the next level.”
Both Ettensberger and Navarro say they are not trying to compete with local Pirelli tire dealers.
“We will never undersell a dealer,” says Ettensberger. “We are more expensive, just like Rodeo Drive.” And like Nike Town, where every shoe is in stock, but more expensive than at places like Foot Locker.
“We’re still learning, and we want to share what we learn with our dealers to make sure we are helping them,” adds Navarro.
Customer awareness is the most important thing, says Ettensberger. And if the customer learns about Pirelli tires at P Zero World and buys them elsewhere, that’s OK.
“This is a museum. This is a showroom for brand awareness. Of course we will sell tires here, but this place is built to have people drive by and say, ‘Oh my gosh, I need new tires.’ It’s a billboard for Pirelli. It’s a lifestyle.”
The 8,000-square-foot location features three bays. Although it caters to owners of prestige cars — think Ferrari, Lamborghini, Aston Martin, Bentley, Maserati — Ettensberger says he will strive to satisfy every customer who walks in the door.
He will preferably sell them P Zero tires, but if they want other Pirelli tires, like a Cincurato P7 All-Season Plus, they are only 45 minutes away at Pirelli’s West Coast warehouse in Fontana, Calif. That includes a “safety stock” of P Zero tires exclusively for P Zero World.
Ettensberger shows once again that the spirit of the independent tire dealer is indomitable.
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