Walter Lybeck, CEO of Point S USA, told the meeting’s 500-plus attendees that he expects the group’s dealers to top their record results from last year in 2020. -

Walter Lybeck, CEO of Point S USA, told the meeting’s 500-plus attendees that he expects the group’s dealers to top their record results from last year in 2020.

Nineteen new U.S. stores started flying the Point S banner in 2019, and they helped the group increase its sales by 10% for the second year in a row.

Clint Young, chief operating officer for Point S, says 2019 “was our most successful year of new-store adds.” Fourteen owners operate the 19 new stores, and they helped the cooperative expand into three new states — Texas, Arkansas and Kentucky — and also secure Louisiana, where a dealer with three stores sold his business, but helped recruit two others in his market join the group.

The Point S USA network — which is operated by Tire Factory Inc. — includes 224 stores in all.

Owners and managers from many of those stores gathered in February for the group’s annual owners meeting in San Diego, Calif. It was one of the organization’s largest meetings, with more than 500 attendees, including its vendors who participated in the trade show.

“2019 was a record year, and we should plan on breaking it again this year,” Walter Lybeck, CEO of Point S USA, told dealers in his opening remarks.

The larger meeting is just one sign of the group’s interest in growing.

The Les Schwab effect

With its headquarters in Portland, Ore., Tire Factory Inc. and its dealers, who mostly operate as Point S Tire & Auto Service locations, have long competed with their fellow Oregon-born neighbor, Les Schwab Tire Centers Inc. The news of the possible sale of the nation’s fifth-largest independent tire dealer is a big point of interest for Point S dealers.

Lybeck admits that “Les Schwab being for sale creates uncertainty. That means employees of Les Schwab are uncertain. That means there are opportunities for independents to find quality employees, because Les Schwab is a fantastic employer, a great company.

“Potentially, managers of Les Schwab (locations) could want to buy a store. There’s potential there.

“We know there’s a group of independent Les Schwab dealers. We would love for them to join our group. We think they’d be a great fit. Not every single one of them would match because some of them compete with our current members, but most would be a pretty good fit.”

Three generations of the Gehrke family were collecting freebies from vendors during the Point S trade show to take back to the team at Hermiston Point S in Hermiston, Ore.: Merle, (left) with Austin (right) and granddaughter Trinity. -

Three generations of the Gehrke family were collecting freebies from vendors during the Point S trade show to take back to the team at Hermiston Point S in Hermiston, Ore.: Merle, (left) with Austin (right) and granddaughter Trinity.

According to MTD data, 57 independent dealers operate Les Schwab locations.

Changes at Les Schwab in 2019 already have had a big effect on Point S dealers. Up until last year, Les Schwab had an exclusive, multi-state territory with Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp. That deal effectively locked out other tire dealers from selling Toyo-branded products in the northwest corner of the U.S., and on Jan. 1, 2019, that deal was no longer in effect.

Point S dealers immediately jumped on the opportunity. Toyo is one of the group’s four preferred tire vendors. (The others are Nokian Tyres Inc., Hankook Tire America Corp. and Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.) Toyo tires were added to the four Point S warehouses in February 2019.

Lybeck says the addition of Toyo, and a six-week rebate in the fall, were “wildly successful.” It was probably the group’s most successful promotion ever, and brought 5,000 new customers into Point S dealers’ stores.

“Our members adapted to the brand. We were able to demonstrate to our members that other products are ok and that we as a group can act together.”

Eric Gill, the largest Point S dealer with 15 stores, is also the chairman of the dealer board. He says the group’s preferred vendors see results from their partnership with Point S dealers. “The story we’re happy to tell is that our preferred vendors have had huge success with us, and our members are able to act as one,” sas Gill. “We want to make sure our members have the systems, the products and the tools to be successful.”

Investing in digital tools

Here’s a look at two of those systems and tools designed to help Point S dealers.

A year ago Steve Helstrom, director of IT and operations, unveiled the group’s brand new All-Trac Platform. A handful of dealers tested the program in 2019, but it’s been beefed up over the last year by the Point S team of IT programmers. The system offers scheduling and bay management tools, plus communication resources and a customer retention tool.

Helstrom says the goal was to make All-Trac modern, easy to use and available on mobile devices and tablets. Eventually the team will consider making it mesh with other point-of-sale systems, but for now All-Trac is fully compatible with the group’s proprietary system, which is called Traction.

All-Trac helps stores schedule service appointments, and flexes as customers make their own appointments online. Technicians in the bays can see the service tickets from the front counter and see the jobs assigned to them. There are tools to monitor bay productivity and technician productivity.

Helstrom says dealers should “get paper out of your system.” He says the time spent shuffling paper from one desk to the next is time lost with a customer.

The tools to communicate with customers include options for text or email, plus options to include photos that demonstrate the work that needs to be done.

Photos of tires and parts that are in good condition can be included, too.

To measure a store’s success, there are tools to send customers a text or email asking them to rate their experience on a 1-10 scale.

If customers respond with a high score, there’s a response that invites them to submit a review on Google. If the score is in the middle or low, the store responds by asking what happened, and how they could do better.

The digital tools reach past the Point S front counter. New for 2020 is a modern answer for the printed posters and point-of-sale materials the marketing team used to create and ship to stores throughout the year.

Every store will soon get a shipment of two matching, standalone digital billboards designed to be positioned inside a showroom. Point S stores won’t be charged for the monitors, but will have the option to pay $50 a month for branded content for their existing lobby televisions. There will be some customizable options.

The benefit is the content can be refreshed quickly, and it will eliminate deliveries of paper point-of-sale materials. That means when a tire rebate ends in the middle of the month, the poster for it won’t still be hanging on the showroom wall three weeks later.

Brian Grandstaff, owner of Brian’s Tire & Auto Repair Point S in Pocatello, Idaho, was so excited when Point S leaders unveiled the digital billboards on stage that he jumped to his feet with applause. Grandstaff says he knows the paper posters are expensive, and he doesn’t always even like them. “I have a closet full of posters.”

He thinks the digital look will impress customers.

“It takes it to the next level. It gives the impression that you’re up front and current. It just blew me away. This is way better than a poster.”    ■

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