Forget all the wisecracks made about millennials. This is not another one of those stories. Millennials are shaping how independent tire dealers operate their businesses. Clair & Dee’s Point S in Rexburg, Idaho, offers a laundry list of improvements made — all in the name of attracting and serving millennial customers. The best part is, those improvements serve every customer who walks in the door, no matter what his or her age.
Ryan Thueson is co-owner of Clair & Dee’s, and says the tire business has adapted its marketing, updated its point-of-sale system, invested in its waiting area and bought loaner vehicles for customers to borrow.
It drills all the way down to the kind of technicians he and fellow business owner Chris Cornelius hire.
“The biggest change for us is how we decide to go to market for these millennials, and that has gone from the type of mechanics we bring in — full service mechanics,” Thueson says. “(Millennials) want to come to one place, a one-stop shop. If you can service their oil change, put their tires on and rotate them and sell them new tires, and fix their timing belts, their water pumps, and their transmissions, if you can do all that, that’s what they really want, because time is key to them. They don’t want to waste the time to go a lot of places. They can find information really fast on their phone, validate what you’re telling them, and then they just want to move on.”
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Here are three more tips from Thueson.
Communication: This generation may get a bad rap for its dependence on cell phones, but Clair & Dee’s is leveraging that connection. Via text the tire dealership communicates everything from when a job is done to a reminder of an upcoming appointment. Improving the store’s point-of-sale system has made that possible, and sending invoices by email is another new option. “If you’re not doing some of that stuff, you might want to think about it,” Thueson says. “Updating that point-of-sale system, that is probably one of the key things you can do.”
Waiting area: The television is no longer the star attraction of a customer waiting area. Thueson says the preference is for a customer to drop off the vehicle for service, but that’s not always an option. So Clair & Dee’s has created an internet bar, with free Wi-Fi, where customers can set up a laptop and work. “We’re finding they’re doing that more than they’re sitting there watching the TV you used to have in your showroom. You could almost do away with that and make it more interactive.”Loaner vehicles: This is something Clair & Dee’s has offered for “a lot of years,” though it didn’t start marketing the service until more recently. The tire dealership bought a couple Kia Souls and had them wrapped with the store’s name and logo. “Some stores say they’re not going to loan a car out to a 25-year-old, but for us, it’s worked really, really well. People call us all the time, ‘is the car available?’” The store takes no reservations, and the car is available on a first-come, first-served basis. “It’s so convenient for them; they absolutely love it.”
Rory Tyler is primary owner of Point S Creswell in Creswell, Ore. He likes to think about millennials the same way he thinks about tires. “Success working with millennials starts with knowing their distinctions, much like knowing your product line.”
He also doesn’t think of starting a relationship with millennials; instead, he thinks of extending a relationship that already exists, one that began years before they even learned to drive. “We began our relationship when they were young children, visiting our store with their parents and grandparents. We spend time interacting with them, giving them soccer balls and footballs with our logo on them, and plenty of popcorn. We believe that the opportunity to be part of their buying decision starts very early.”
The relationship continues as the potential customers become students in the local school, and Point S Creswell donates uniforms, gives away water bottles and advertises in the school gymnasium. “We understand millennials don’t have loyalty tendencies, and the internet is an obstacle. But with our many avenues of exposure I truly believe there is not a child in our town that is not familiar with Point S and the strong support we’ve given,” Tyler says. “I believe all of this exposure increases my chances of being able to explain to them the many benefits of buying locally.”
Beyond that, Tyler says hiring the right people helps draw in the right customer. “Hiring a key millennial as a salesperson is another step we’ve found to be able to grow that millennial base.
“We focus on top performing high school athletes when we’re looking to hire. We’ve found the work ethic it takes to become a top performing athlete can be utilized to become a top performing employee.”
Those employees are allowed to access their cell phones while at work, but Tyler says, “We limit it. We make sure they know it is a privilege and it can be taken away. We monitor it and make sure it doesn’t get abused, but I feel it’s made a difference in letting us build a stronger relationship.”
That cell phone use in the store has opened up new avenues to communicate with customers, Tyler says. Like Thueson, Point S Creswell is communicating with customers via text. It’s a “more consistent means of instant communication.” His team is sending photos of wheels and price quotes via text messaging, “and we get an instant response.”
Texting has become a key component of Damon Nielson’s business at Tire Factory Point S in American Fork, Utah. It may have started with millennials, but Nielson says it’s become a go-to tool for customers of all ages.
“Anyone in this day and age, you call them, you’ve got an estimate put together, you need to get ahold of them, and you call and it rings and rings and rings.” It might take hours for a customer to respond to a voice mail, but when Nielson sends a text message that says the estimate is ready, “the phone will almost always ring back within 30 seconds.” And those who can’t call back will reply via text. “We’ve found that since we’ve been using the texting, customers don’t even call us anymore. We get a text, ‘Hey, I need an appointment.’”
Nielson says it’s critical that a business establish policies with how to communicate with customers via text. Every incoming message is sent in duplicate to multiple members of the team to make sure someone responds quickly. And every time a customer drops off a vehicle, an employee asks, “How would you like us to communicate with you today?” The options: text messages, emails and phone calls.
Ben Millar says millennials deserve credit for using tools, and pushing others to use them, to work more efficiently. Millar owns Millar’s Point S Tire and Auto Service in Canby, Ore., and says older generations “are married to their jobs and feel the need to be there a lot.”
He doesn’t see that same trait in millennials, and wonders if the difference is “our generation hasn’t learned to work smart, and we are not as efficient in using the tools and systems millennials have already mastered.
“The bottom line is employers don’t have to break the way they have run their successful businesses, but they do have to open up to the millennials’ strengths.”
Shane Vorderstrasse, owner of Canaga Point S Tire and Automotive in Lebanon, Ore., identifies himself as a millennial, and says others might be surprised to learn his generation doesn’t place price at the top of its list of priorities. “They care about value.
“They want you to give them a fair price. If they’re going to come into your store, as long as you’re in the competitive price range, as long as you’re going to meet all of their needs at one time — that’s going to matter way more to them than the price,” he says.
“They do their research before they come, so that gives you the opportunity to validate that research, but also help them make a different decision based on the additional facts you discover when you do the diligence of asking the right questions. When you build that trust, you have the opportunity to build loyalty.” ■
These five tire dealers talked about their strategies during a training session, “Millennials are your future,” during the 2017 Tire Factory Inc. annual dealer meeting.