Spotting Damaged Wheels Boosts Profits
At least two dozen vehicles roll into the bays at Sports Car Tire Inc. in Wilmington, Del., every day. On busy days, the three bays turn over as many as 40 cars.
And while the 26-year-old retail business, owned by Tom Cresswell and Les Tronzo, installs tires and wheels on all makes and models, it’s known as the go-to place for owners of luxury vehicles, says Chris Misero, operations manager of Sports Car Tire. Seven out of 10 vehicles are high performance rides.
Misero says the typical customer is pulling into the garage in one of these eight brands of vehicles: Mercedes, BMW, Porsche, Land Rover, Jaguar, Tesla, Infiniti — or a Honda. The customers are just as likely to work as executives, doctors or lawyers as they are to be homemakers, he says. And while the overall customer base is mostly male, Misero says they all share a common trait.
“They care most about getting it right the first time,” he says. That means they want the right tires from the get go. When they bring in their vehicle for a vibration issue, they expect it to be solved by the time they drive away from their service appointment. Misero says it’s about “taking the extra step to make them feel satisfied.
“It’s not how expensive things are; it’s the quality of service and knowledge that counts.”
The expertise extends far beyond the retail counter. Sports Car Tire also operates a wholesale business, selling tires, as well as tire and wheel packages, to new car dealers. But the real calling card is wheel repair and wheel refinishing. Misero says Sports Car Tire handles the wheel work for car dealerships and body shops throughout Delaware, as well as eastern Pennsylvania and Maryland. The company has shipped restored and refinished wheels to as far away as Alaska and Hawaii. Four of the company’s 20 employees work full time in the wheel shop.
“We’re known as the fixers,” Misero says. Other businesses that have tried to do their own wheel work often turn it over to Sports Car Tire when the job doesn’t go as planned. Some local shops send all of their damaged wheels to the business, and he says it’s not uncommon for them to have their runner sit and wait until the job is done. In the winter time, the wheel shop can get so backed up that customers have waited a week for a wheel repair.
“There are a lot of potholes out there.”
And based on the customer reviews, Sports Car Tire is getting it right. One recent customer referred to the business as having “real Jedi masters working there.” Another complimented the team for the “great tire selection, great price, plus not a mark on pristine wheels.” Another customer kept it simple: “Would not go anywhere else.”
While many tire dealers work hard to solicit reviews on Google or Facebook, Misero says Sports Car Tire doesn’t do that. There’s no follow-up text or email asking customers to go online. No reminder printed on the invoice. “I don’t ask anyone to do anything.”
Sports Car Tire has kept its business tight around the tire. In addition to wheel straightening, the company offers ceramic coating and powder coating services, plus tire repair, tire rotations, wheel alignments and road force balancing. There are no oil changes or brake services, or any other underhood or undercar automotive services on the menu.
Tire and wheel service accounts for 40% of the overall business, Misero says. By far the most popular services are wheel refinishing and repair.
Misero says bent wheels present plenty of opportunities for more sales. He estimates eight out of 10 vehicles on the road have a bent wheel. “On average, there are probably one or two bent wheels on every car that hits our lift.
“As cars hit our lifts, the first thing the guys do is spin every wheel on the vehicle. We check for trueness on every tire. Everybody in the shop knows this is how we start the job.”
And when the technicians find a bent wheel, Misero regularly walks customers into the bay to show them the damage.
Tires are still No. 1
Even with a booming wheel business, and up to 5,000 factory wheels in stock on a given day, it’s tires that make up the bulk of Sports Car Tire’s business. Four tire brands stand out as the most popular with Misero’s consumers: Michelin, Continental, Pirelli and Goodyear. The business keeps 7,500 tires in stock, and manages orders and shipments direct from one manufacturer (Pirelli), plus five wholesale distributors: American Tire Distributors Inc. (ATD), TireHub LLC, Reliable Tire Co., Max Finkelstein Inc. and National Tire Wholesale (NTW).
Because the business has always focused on sporty, performance-oriented vehicles, Misero says the rise in popularity and use of ultra-high performance tires over the years hasn’t had a big effect on their business. “But people are increasing the horsepower and performance of their cars, which in turn increases the demand for tires to hold the road.”
Misero says he feels tire manufacturers have done their part to keep up with the performance demands of car manufacturers who are selling 1,000 horsepower vehicles. The trick is helping the drivers of those vehicles select the right tires for their style of driving, especially if the customer is driving that vehicle to work each day, and then going to the track on the weekends.
“There’s a lot of weekend warriors out there. But on-the-track driving is completely different than driving every day.”
There’s another trend feeding Sports Car Tire’s business. Misero refers to it as “dressing up trucks.”
The truck business — involving both pickups and Jeeps — is having a moment. Owners are swapping out OE tires designed for the highway for all-terrain and mud-terrain options.
“The majority of people who get a factory truck want to change it constantly,” Misero says. “And they want black wheels. There are black wheels on trucks everywhere you look.”