Preparing your customers for winter
Customers know they need proper tires to navigate through the brutal conditions of the winter that is to come, but the need for other winter car care services might be less apparent to them. Independent tire dealers should be ready to approach their customers with solutions to potential winter driving problems such as impaired visibility and fluid replacement. They also need to prepare their employees to deal with this busy time of year.
Bill Bainbridge, vice president of marketing for family-owned and operated CJ’s Tire & Automotive Services in southeastern Pennsylvania, says CJ’s sets itself apart from the competition, especially in the busy winter months, by investing in training and advertising and using point-of-sale posters as public service announcements. The company has been recognized in a local newspaper as a reader’s choice poll favorite; it has been named both the best tire dealer and the best automotive and repair shop based on customers’ experiences at all 13 CJ’s locations.
Part of CJ’s success during the winter has to be attributed to its thorough preparation. Bainbridge says all of CJ’s retail associates attend training meetings to ensure readiness for the winter season. The meetings address two primary topics: winter tires and customer service.
“They not only need to be told what to do, but they need to understand why,” Bainbridge says. “If they understand why, they’ll do the job more effectively.”
Associates are prepared to show customers that making an investment now will help them in the future. They use a car care checklist to make sure that each winter car care issue gets addressed with each customer. CJ’s ensures that each location is staffed properly. In addition, hours are closely monitored to avoid overtime.
Colder temperatures and winter weather magnify issues that already need addressed, Bainbridge says. Through “excellent” customer service, CJ’s associates make customers aware of what problems need resolved, such as poor windshield wiper blades or coolant issues. He points to windshield wipers as an item often overlooked by consumers when they think about winter car care.
“You put on new wipers, they work really well, and as you use them, they deteriorate, and you forget how bad they really are. When you really need them, that’s when you think about it. You don’t want to get into the first snowfall or freezing rain with wipers that don’t clear.”
As part of the training meetings, CJ’s associates learn how to explain the differences between winter wipers and wipers for other seasons. They discuss different rubber compounds and the best compound to stay softer and more pliable in colder temperatures in order to conform to the windshield.
In addition, associates perform a multipoint inspection of every customer’s car, paying close attention to the tires, heater, defroster, wipers, fluid levels, air filters, battery and lights to ensure that customers leave with all possible problems solved, ready to safely navigate through winter weather. They also ask their customers questions, assessing their needs and expectations.
Bainbridge says CJ’s winter displays featuring point-of-sale posters further educate customers. The posters, coupled with the email blasts and print ads, alert customers about having their vehicles prepared for winter, and remind them of the importance of an emergency kit with supplies like a scraper, snow brush, jumper cables and a flashlight.
Bainbridge also points to inventory as another large part of operating successfully during the busy winter season. “There is nothing worse than a customer recognizing a need and not being able to take care of it ‘on the spot.’”
AB Tire & Repair
Like Bainbridge, Ed Klempay, owner of AB Tire & Repair in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, believes in customer education. He never tries to up-sell, but will be honest with customers about what their vehicles need to survive in the area’s conditions.
“In a bad economy, we’ve grown exponentially by having a philosophy that puts the customer first,” he says.
Klempay hires more part-time help every fall so AB Tire will be prepared for the winter demands. Although he does not extend the shop’s hours by choice, it always happens, and he does his best to accommodate each and every customer.
AB Tire sells a lot of winter tire and wheel packages, but doesn’t inventory them. Klempay says buying them from the Tire Rack is less expensive. He stores the tires not in use at no additional cost to his customers.
The advent of monorail wiper blades has made dealing with winter weather easier, according to Klempay. They offer the customer a multifunctional product with longevity. “It’s a small thing, but a huge change for the industry.”
Klempay says proper tire pressure is another important aspect of winter car care, and is often overlooked. With the change in temperature comes a change in tire pressure, and he makes sure to always check the pressure when working on a customer’s vehicle. He also makes a point to check all fluids, testing the antifreeze for the freeze point.
Dunn Tire LLC, a 30-store chain headquartered in Buffalo, N.Y., collects contact information from customers in order to send them reminders to get winter tires before the rush. Like CJ’s, Dunn Tire has an email program — called the “e-minder program” — that sends email notifications to customers about upcoming services. Postcards are sent to those who have not given email addresses.
“We are constantly contacting our customer base to make sure they’re aware of what needs to be taking place,” says Pat Logue, managing director of retail operations.
Logue stresses the importance of switching to winter tires for winter driving in the Buffalo area, which is located in the snowbelt region. He points out that people think all-season tires perform well in the winter; in reality, however, the compounds will stiffen as it gets colder and the tread will not grip as well.
For a fee, Dunn Tire offers customers the convenience of storing their winter or all-season tires with Dunn Tire during changeovers. “The idea is to make it easy for customers so they don’t carry their tires all around,” says Logue.
Dunn Tire also guarantees the lowest tire price. If a customer finds a better price within 30 days of service, they get 200% of the difference returned to them.
Selling winter tires may be the biggest part of preparing their customers’ vehicles for winter, but Dunn Tire managers also think it is important to discuss wiper blades with their customers. “You need wiper blades to perform the way you want them to during cold weather,” says Logue.
The stores also offer free battery checks to make sure that customers’ batteries will make it through the winter.
Always assess the customer’s needs and expectations, and “try to make sure customers leave with what they really need,” says Logue. However, after going through the educational process and making recommendations, ultimately sell each customer what he or she wants and is most comfortable with. ■
Melissa DeWater is a freelance writer for Northeast Ohio Media Group and a contributor and editorial assistant for The Spirit of Bainbridge, an independently owned newspaper.