Want to sell more alignments? Two dealers share how they do it
In most waiting rooms, late-breaking news or a favorite sports team draws people to the wide-screen TV. In Tire Discounters Inc. stores, customers are more likely to be watching a play-by-play of their vehicle’s wheel alignment with detailed commentary from a sales associate.
“People don’t know what alignment means,” says Forry Hargitt, director of operations for the Cincinnati, Ohio-based dealer, which ranks as the ninth largest in the country on the 2013 MTD 100. Tire Discounters customers are learning by watching their vehicle’s alignment in real time. Sales associates walk customers through the alignment process, explaining what is happening and how it will reduce tire wear.
“If we maximize the mileage of the tire, we have a customer for life,” says Hargitt. “Alignments do not get attention like oil changes. We educate the customer on how the environment can change alignment.”
As customers learn, Tire Discounters sells more alignments. Hargitt declined to share specific numbers, saying, “We’re growing stores so we’re growing alignments.” The company has more than 900 employees at 86 stores in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, with plans to open 12 more in the next year.
Tire Discounters is selling more alignments even while giving them away. The company, which mostly uses aligners from Hunter Engineering Co., provides a free alignment with the purchase of four tires. “One of the things helping our success is a free alignment with the tire purchase. To do the alignment as part of the purchase of the tires is not the industry norm by any means,” says Hargitt.
It’s easy to see how free alignments can boost tire sales and establish relationships with customers looking for deals. But it is up to the company’s sales associates to give customers reasons to come back for alignment services. In addition to presenting the benefits of an aligned vehicle, sales associates sell “alignment policies.” A policy guarantees an alignment whenever needed for the duration of the policy. Policies are offered in one-, three- or five-year plans, and are available to customers who bought their tires from another provider.
“Alignment is critical to getting maximum life out of tires. If you don’t ensure alignment is correct, you are handicapping the customer at start of the life of the tire. That’s why we do alignments when tires are sold. We understand a customer’s investment in tires is not cheap. One way we are maximizing tire wear is to keep the vehicle in alignment. It’s a way we can reach out to people and say we want to help protect your investment,” says Hargitt.
In the hands of a specialist
A dealer in Texas takes another approach to increasing sales of alignments and related jobs, which generate about $4,000 a month. Todd Hamilton, owner of Leroy’s Corp. dba Double H Tire in Mineral Wells, offers tire and auto repair along with service for commercial and farm vehicles. Five bays are in use every day with three reserved for long-term projects. One of his six employees, Bill Baker, is dedicated to alignments.
Hamilton says his alignment sales are driven by an alignment specialist who understands the chassis and how front-ends are built. “Anybody can be taught how to hook up a computer. My guy’s got 30 years of alignment experience plus chassis repair. Alignments are more than measurements. They involve knowing what’s wrong and what’s causing the problem. It could be wear in a ball joint, tie rod or other component. As soon as you move the car, the slack takes over and it’s out of alignment again. Don’t try to align a vehicle that has a worn part. That’s just wasting someone’s money.”
Hamilton uses the HawkEye Elite alignment system from Hunter. “It’s an expensive piece of equipment but necessary if you are going to lead the way in alignments in our area.” Todd says all the local body shops send cars to him for alignment, a testimony to his market leadership. “A qualified tire tech can take off a tire and tell if there’s an alignment issue. I don’t sell people anything they don’t need. Honestly, I live off my reputation more than anything.”
Manufacturers continue to innovate to help shops add more speed, convenience and personalized attention to a customer’s alignment service. New technologies have led to clamps that do not touch the metal rim of the wheel, alignment analysis in as little as 60 seconds, and mobile interface with diagnostic equipment.
BendPak Inc. plans to launch its Target 3DPro Imaging Wheel Aligner in North America later this year. Jeff Kritzer, senior vice president of sales and marketing, says the aligner is fully functional using mobile devices such as tablets or smartphones. “The mobile interface allows users to enjoy wireless remote operation which includes monitoring of live vehicle measurements, controlling software features and viewing of vehicle-specific adjustment illustrations,” says Kritzer.
Other key features of special interest to dealers are the use of lightweight crash-resistant targets instead of expensive wheel clamp cameras that are prone to damage; 3D technology that allows the camera to track all four vehicle targets automatically and at any height; and a 30% average increase in read-rate accuracy, according to Kritzer.
He says dealers can expect to see come-backs and customer complaints decline.
Vehicle Service Group
Vehicle Service Group of Madison, Ind., expanded the vehicle alignment options offered by its Forward Lift brand in August. The company added a four-post alignment lift, the CRA18, to the Forward Lift line. The new lift has 18,000 pounds of capacity and can be used to perform four-wheel alignments on cars, pickups, Class 5 work trucks and day cabs.
The company also introduced an alignment retrofit kit for those who already own a heavy-duty Forward Lift CR18 four-post lift.
Hunter Engineering Co.
Patented QuickGrip adaptors from Hunter Engineering Co. attach to the tire, not the rim. “Hunter’s latest revolution in alignment technology features no metal-to-metal contact with the wheel,” says Kaleb Silver, senior product manager of alignment equipment. “The lack of metal-to-metal contact is facilitated by developments we have made in technology. While it is still very important to reference the wheel, we can now accomplish this without damaging the wheel,” says Silver.
Improvements in adaptor technology paved the way for a decrease in setup time, making Hunter diagnostic products faster to use. Initially, system setup time and result retrieval took 10 minutes. Enhancements in technology decreased this time to four minutes, and then further to two minutes. Hunter’s current technology provides alignment readings in just 90 seconds.
“Software released in June 2013 allows technicians to use Hunter’s premium HawkEye Elite system to both check and perform the vehicle’s alignment,” says Silver. “A dealer usually realizes payback on an alignment machine in less than one year. Dealers performing twenty to thirty alignment checks using the Hunter product can expect it to be paid off in three to four months.”
Hunter expanded its Quick Check diagnostic system in June to test tread depth, battery health, emissions codes, and braking performance along with alignment. “Reaction to the product has been tremendous,” says Silver.
“The Quick Check inspection system is a fast way to market alignments. Typically, alignment checks are a complimentary service and part of the check-in process. The good news you give a customer when their vehicle doesn’t need an alignment builds loyalty and customer retention.”
Launch Tech USA Inc.
Businesses are looking for ways to generate quick revenue in the shops, and quick alignment test equipment is setting the trend, says Chuck Downs, undercar equipment director at Launch Tech USA Inc. “Adding or updating to newer, more modern alignment equipment is something shops should consider as a way of generating more direct sales and other pull-through sales such as suspension and steering parts and service labor as well as tire sales and related undercar business.”
The company says its easy-to-use Launch Model X-631 is the first plug-and-play aligner sold in the U.S. It is the only aligner with a two-year warranty and two years of free software updates, according to Launch Tech.
Cemb USA/BL-Systems Inc.
Cemb SpA of Italy manufactures an affordable aligner for smaller shops or larger ones, according to Bob Gibson, special projects manager for the company’s U.S. division, Cemb USA/BL-Systems Inc. He says the DWA 1000 XL alignment system for cars and light trucks runs off a laptop and comes with a printer and monitor. “We have an affordable laptop aligner using the latest wireless technology, lithium ion battery technology and solid state measuring technology. This aligner is great for a two- or three-bay garage that does a few alignments a week and does not want to send their alignments out.” Cemb’s U.S. division is based in Gainesville, Ga.
Ravaglioli SpA of Italy introduced a new alignment system in 2013 to North American markets through its U.S. division, RavAmerica. With the company’s Vistar 3-D aligner, you don’t have to push, pull and roll vehicles on the lift, says Nick McCullough, president of RavAmerica, which is based in Texarkana, Texas. The aligner’s Solid Vision Technology allows you “to pull onto the lift and quickly measure with the vehicle sitting still.”
Exclusive wheel clamp technology contributes to ease and accuracy. “Our patented Fast Clamps offer no metal-to-metal contact with the wheel and make referencing lipless wheels and tires with bead guards a walk through the park.” The aligner’s mounting device securely attaches itself to the tire and not to the wheel. “It is so precisely manufactured that runout compensation is not required,” says McCullough.
The Vistar 3-D aligner is compatible with any alignment lift of any brand. The aligner checks a lift once a day for level condition and compensates to show correct alignment values.
“The new Vistar is a more versatile choice in that it can be used in multiple bays all over the shop,” says McCullough. “It can be used on a second lift, on the shop floor, or in a pit. It can be used in the in-service drive for quick checks of the vehicle alignment condition. It will align longer vehicles which do not fit on the lift.” Since the system does not require a fixed position in front of the alignment lift, it creates additional work space and frees up traffic aisles which simplifies work flow, according to McCullough. ■