On the road again
"Route sales are what we´re all about," says Bill Watkins, general manager of Moore´s Tire Sales Inc.
Moore´s Tire, a wholesale tire distributor based in Owego, N.Y., canvasses upstate New York (and some northern counties in Pennsylvania on the New York border) with 60 route salesmen.
The life of a route salesman is not exactly glamorous. They drive hundreds of miles a day. They deliver their own tires. And they like what they do, even when they make cold calls. And they all make cold calls.
"You always have to throw in a little cold call," says Tom "Bucky" Korosec, a 15-year Moore´s road warrior. "As soon as you stop doing that, you never grow."
Watkins has been with Moore´s Tire for 18 years. (Owners Byron and Jim Moore will celebrate the tire dealership´s 40th anniversary in December.) As general manager, he runs day-to-day operations, supervising 10 warehouses and seven retail stores.
The company wholesales to some 6,500 customers, "and we really strive to get the mom-and-pop shops, off the beaten path," he says.
Light truck and SUV tires account for well over 50% of the company´s business. It doesn´t cater to the tuner market, at least yet, according to Watkins.
Moore´s offers Cooper and Lee as its two main consumer lines, and Carlisle for its non-highway service, skid-steer, implement and boat trailer tire lines (it also "dabbles in medium truck," according to Watkins). "We do a couple million dollars in the Goodyear brand, too." Sales totaled more than $40 million last year, almost $24 million in Cooper sales.
"It´s pretty tough to stock any more than two full lines," says Watkins. "(We don´t) have the square footage to handle three full lines.
"We´re known to have the product. When our wholesale customers call us, we need to have what they ask for. But once you get three lines, it takes the focus of our salesmen off the Cooper line. We focus on Cooper."
Watkins says if his customers call him by 10 a.m., they will get same-day service. "We run the same routes five days a week. Each salesman has one route that he handles."
He said, he said
What do route salesmen think their customers want most from them? "I guess you could say a good bang for the buck -- a tire that will perform but is not out of sight price-wise," says a former Moore´s route salesman.
What do wholesale customers want most from their route salesmen? "The right product at the right time," says Mark French, vice president of French´s Auto Inc. in Susquehanna, N.Y., and a customer of Moore´s. "I want the tire that I ordered in the right size."
Six of Moore´s route salesmen recently attended a ride-and-drive at Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.´s Tire & Vehicle Test Center (TVTC) in San Antonio, Texas.
The salesmen brought some of their customers with them, so Modern Tire Dealer asked both parties -- separately, of course -- what they wanted most from each other, and grouped each customer with his salesman. Here are their answers (each salesman´s years of service with Moore´s is in parentheses).
1. Bucky Korosec (15 years): "Service. They want a call, they want you to show up on time when you need stuff, they want you to handle adjustments, they want you to handle any problems. The whole package represents service. And have the product. That´s part of the package."
Jason Crill, Crill´s Service Station Inc., Booneville, N.Y.: "The best thing we need from them is information (about) the tires, number one, and dependable, reliable service and everyday deliveries." (Crill´s keeps 100 tires in inventory).
2. Ron Hazlett (4-1/2 years): "The most they want from me is to supply tires consistently and service. They know they can get them on a daily basis. They can almost schedule when I´m going to be there."
Randy Brown, Brown´s Auto Repair, Randolph, N.Y.: "The most important thing I want from him is reliability -- as far as him being there and taking care of me when I need him. I order daily from him. A lot of time, I´ll call him and ask his opinion on what´s the best tire I should put on my customer´s vehicle."
3. Todd Leamon (nine years). "Service. Timely delivery, get back to them promptly when (they have) customer complaints -- make adjustments. Sometimes I´ll deal directly with their customers."
Mike Shara, Shara´s Auto Repair, Endwell, N.Y.: "Honesty. I just want a sincere person, not somebody who will say, ´yeah, yeah´ and not be able to come through with it."
Tony Badaloni, Tony B´s Tire & Auto Service Center, Johnson City, N.Y.: "Service, so I can service may customers. Having the product on hand. Appearance -- when they drive into my facility, are they driving in junk trucks? And having the right product on hand on time."
4. Les Streeter (13 years): "Honesty. That´s probably what I´ve built my route on, loyalty and honesty. They´re like family now."
Ralph Spina, J&M Automotive, Richmondville, N.Y.: "Honesty. If I have a question for him, I want him to say, ´Ralph, this is what I think we should do,´ I don´t want him to just sell me a tire."
5. John Aughenbaugh (six years): "Service. If there is a situation and they need something, we´ve got to find a way to get it to him. If you have the product on hand and you can get it to them, they´ll pay my price. You don´t have to give it away."
Rick Steidle, Dorschel Automotive Inc., Rochester, N.Y.: "Good service. (I want him to send) the tires when I need them, and when I have a problem, even if it´s not totally the tire´s fault, I want him to take care of it."
6. Eric Chilson (22 years): "Service. You take care of their needs. If they have a problem, you handle it for them. You do what you have to to keep the customer happy."
Rich Decatur, Decatur´s Automotive Inc., Athens, Pa.: "Probably just product availability. Without the product, you can´t sell it."
The hardest part
We also asked the salesmen other questions. For example, when asked, "What´s the hardest part about being a route salesman?" they had differing opinions.
"Some days it´s just pounding out miles on the road, like every traveling job," said Korosec, who drives 200 to 300 miles on a busy day. "The easiest part for me is dealing with people."
"Probably collecting payment," said Leamon. Streeter agreed. "It´s not that difficult, it´s just an unpleasant part of the job (when) you have to hound for money. But you´ve got to stay on top of it. It´s probably the most important part of my job."
"I work hard at keeping my accounts receivables as low as possible," said Chilson. "It´s one of the challenges of the job."
Aughenbaugh said keeping his customers informed is the hardest part of his job "because it´s constant. Your catalogs are updated, new products are being introduced; we´ve introduced three new light truck tires and two new passenger tires since the beginning of the year."
There was no hard part for Hazlett. "I don´t think there is one. You can make a job as hard as you want to make it or as easy as you want to make it."
Cold call advice: Go back until you make the sale
It has to be tough to go on a cold call and try to sell a product to someone you don´t know. Or is it?
When asked, "What is the hardest part of making cold calls?" route salesmen from Moore´s Tire Sales Inc. in Owego, N.Y., answered as follows:
1. Bucky Korosec: "Hard? "No, it´s easy."
Korosec said most business owners are usually receptive to his calls, but not always. When asked if it bothers him, he said, "No, you go back. Unless they physically throw you out or tell you never to go back, you always go back. I´ve had guys tell me they´re never going to buy a tire and a year later they end up buying some. If you don´t stop back, you´re never going to know."
2. Ron Hazlett: "Finding the time to make them."
3. Todd Leamon: "Knowing what kind of pricing structure to go in with."
4. Les Streeter: "Probably the hardest part is trying to build communication with them, getting to know them and know they trust you."
5. John Aughenbaugh: "Nothing hard. Just be persistent. Keep knocking on the door. People need options. They won´t call you if they don´t know who you are."
6. Eric Chilson: "I don´t have a problem with that, really. I´m comfortable doing that."