When a customer walks in convinced his car doesn’t need synthetic motor oil when you think it does, and argues with you at every suggestion, do you take the time to educate him and explain your recommendation? Do you turn down the job? Or do you take his money, use traditional oil, and hope for the best?
It’s a gut check. And there may be dozens of moments like that every week in a tire dealership.
I didn’t ask Alpio Barbara, our 2016 Tire Dealer of the Year, to give me his philosophy on business, but I didn’t have to. After spending two-and-a-half days with him and his team at Redwood General Tire Service Co., it was clear. “I’ll sell a product if I believe in it,” he says.
That means he sells road hazard warranties, and says it’s one of the big benefits of his membership in the Tire Pros network. “It keeps bringing the customer back.” If the customer is far from home, one phone call to a toll-free number connects the customer to another independent dealer who will take care of the problem. That’s not an add-on charge that pads the bill. That’s customer service.
In many instances, it’s the flip side of Barbara’s rule that guides the process. He doesn’t fill tires with nitrogen. “I think nitrogen works well on airplanes. I think nitrogen works well in NASCAR. I’m not so sure we need nitrogen on our everyday cars that we drive.” He’s had colleagues ask, “What’s wrong with you? You can get $6 a tire and make $24 for your bottom line.” But he holds firm. “I’m not going to do it because it’s a profit center for me because I don’t believe in it.”
Quick oil change service? Tested it and abandoned it because he didn’t like putting cars back on the road with worn brakes because the customer only wanted an oil change. “There’s a time and a purpose for a quick change and dedicated bays,” Barbara says, but that’s not the kind of business he wants to operate. Redwood General Tire conducts a 72-point inspection on every vehicle. His technicians replace burned-out taillights and tell the customer after the fact.
He doesn’t believe in advertisements with tiny print. “You can’t do a $9.95 oil change. You can’t do a smog test for $29.95 when you’re paying your technician $30,” Barbara says. “If you’re going to do a smog test the proper way, it takes a good 35 minutes. How can you make any money on that? We’re not a church.
“I don’t want to put pressure on my salesman, ‘OK the price is $9.95, but by the time the customer leaves I want you to get $85 out of them.’ That’s not ethical. That’s not right.”
Barbara sees plenty of people following a different path, tire dealers and tire manufacturers included. “Our trouble is people in our own industry; they’ll do anything to make a sale. They’ll put any brand of tire on to make a sale, and they’ll put any brake on to make a sale.”
He doesn’t lead his team to selling a certain brand of tire. He and Store Manager Denny Reiser talk constantly about how every transaction needs to be a win, win, win. “You should be free to do what is right,” Reiser says. “There is a way the customer can win, the salesman can win, and the store can make money and win.”
Sometimes, they are small wins, like the customer who didn’t want the synthetic oil. Barbara’s salesman convinced him otherwise. And the customer paid the ticket without complaint.
If you have comments or questions, email Senior Editor Joy Kopcha at email@example.com.
Please see Alpio Barbara's store here: