Two days, four sessions, and 20+ tire guys later, we return to our stores and companies, and do it all over again. Every once in a while, you must drive a stake in the ground, pause, gather with others, and reassess what you’re doing.

A number of weeks ago, I received an email from the owner of 10 retail stores asking if I would consider training a group of his store managers and assistant managers on the basics of sales presentations, customer service, phone skills, etc. After considering it for a few days, I accepted the opportunity. I don’t spend my life running or operating tire stores like I once did, and I felt the experience would do me good, as well as everybody else.

Almost daily I read email blogs, white papers, and retail trend reports. I subscribe to dozens of magazines and industry publications, both printed and emailed. I decided to write fresh training material from scratch for half of the sessions and use time-tested material for the other half. Because I love hands-on live training, the interaction, the insight, the sparring with veteran and newbie front-counter sales people, the interaction can get spirited. There is certainly no shortage of experiences and opinions.

I entitled the sessions: Leaders Lead and Winners Win. We discussed strategy, process and execution, all of which are critical to overall success. We discussed the execution of strategy, tactics such as a systematic sales process, merchandising, product presentations, phone procedures, and value optimization. In each of these categories, there is a gap between what is happening and what should be happening. There’s always room for improvement.

I outlined my belief that to lead and win in today’s marketplace, you must understand what the competition is doing and what tire consumers want. Identifying the gaps and closing them is the responsibility of ownership and the counter sales staff; in other words, closing the gaps is an inside job.

The competition is doing what they do, and because change is hard, their patterns of business are predictable. A tire customer’s pathway to purchase, after they discover their need for tires, is understandable and predictable. How your store or stores operate is predicted on past performance and DNA, and is, therefore, rather predictable. This predictability must be re-strategized.There is a growing gap that exists between what customers used to do, who and how they shopped, what they are currently doing, and what they’d like to be doing. Retail consumers are restless. Consumers are looking for new, innovative ways to buy things, not just tires, all things, including tires. Consumers of all products are looking for new seamless ways to satisfy their wants and needs.

As I continued our training, our dialog revealed that, indeed, the behavior of younger generations, millennials and Gen-Z’s, are impacting expectations for counter sales staff. These digital-centric generations know more and expect more. Plenty has been said about the impact of online research by consumers as part of their decision-making process; however, the needle continues to move.

Certain retailers, both online and in-store, are shifting their attention toward a more sophisticated online presentation. Tire Rack has upgraded its website, as has Discount Tire Direct, with a more consumer-centric approach. Let’s say they are focusing more on the consumer’s digital experience, and less on simply serving up tire info (pictures and data).

During the training, we reminded each other about some key facts we should all remember:

❶ 25% of tire consumers purchase within 48 hours of discovering their need (red hot prospects),

❷ 50% buy within one to two weeks (hot prospects),

❸ and the remaining 25% buy at about three weeks (procrastinators).

The takeaway is that 75% of tire shoppers you talk with are going to buy within two weeks, many within two days. They are hot and highly engaged!

Another important point, talk with customers about what they are interested in, don’t talk about what customers don’t care about. The key takeaway is what do customers care about: surveys show 86% say durability or long mileage, 85% want to know about price, 80% traction, and 75% warranty. I believe these surveys, and everyone in the training agreed, as well.

The third and final takeaway is when a customer calls or says at the counter, “I need a price on some tires,” we should answer with this type of power-packed answer: “I have some durable long-wearing tires at great prices. They offer great traction and a good warranty.” For pickup truck customers, you could use an opening assurance statement like this: “I have several tires on special that offer great traction and durability. Let’s check it out.”

Leaders lead with sound strategy. Winners win with skilled execution.    ■

Wayne Williams is president of Wayne Williams Marketing, a marketing and branding company with emphasis on retail “counter intelligence.” Located in La Habra, Calif., he can be reached via email at wayne@waynewilliamsmarketing.com.

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