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At Tire Pros University, dealers debate online sales

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At Tire Pros University, dealers debate online sales

Dealers often highlight marketing as a particularly troubling and confusing element of their businesses. That's one reason why Tire Pros is taking its marketing training on the road.

Tire Pros University (TPU) is in the midst of its summer session, and independent dealers in the Tire Pros franchise are participating in the two-day classes as instructors crisscross the country for 19 TPU meetings. Tire Pros hosted its eighth session in Akron, Ohio and allowed Modern Tire Dealer an exclusive seat in the classroom.

Tire Pros says its marketing support is the most popular service it offers dealers. But even with that support, when asked about their investment in marketing, 36% of Tire Pros dealers say they know they need to market their businesses, but they’re not sure it’s working.

That leaves plenty of room for improvement and education with efforts like the latest round of TPU classes: “Revenue-generating and impactful marketing concepts.” Two teams of presenters are covering the country during 19 TPU meetings. 

Mike Fox, an adjunct professor at Wake Forest University’s School of Business, and Bob Bittner, director of store operations for Tire Pros, are leading the classes in the eastern half of the U.S., including the one in Akron. The West Coast team is Wayne Williams, MTD’s Counter Intelligence columnist and president of ExSell Marketing Inc., and Wes Stephenson, vice president of operations for Tire Pros.

In the Akron session, 11 dealers from Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia offered differing degrees of experience.

Jim Federico, the second generation owner of Federico Tire & Service Inc. in Painesville, Ohio, joined Tire Pros this year, while John Skerbetz, 58, of Ferguson Tire Pros in Weirton, W.V. joked he’s been in the industry since he was in the second grade. No matter how long the dealers have been in business, they all agreed they’re facing pressure from an increase in competition from online tire sellers.

That prompted Fox to ask the group how many of them make it known they’ll install tires bought online. Only a few hands went up. “Is that a business opportunity?” Fox asked. “Buy it wherever, install it here.”

Doug Novosel, an owner of Best Buy Tire Pros Automotive & Service LLC in Cleveland, Ohio, says it’s an opportunity. “It gets the car in the door,” he says, and presents him an opportunity to sell other needed services.

Skerbetz from West Virginia was of the opposite viewpoint. “We were always combative,” he says, thinking his business would only get the crumbs from what could have been a more profitable deal. But by the end of the two-day session, Skerbetz was changing his tune, and thinking that someone is going to install those tires for those consumers, so it might as well be Ferguson Tire.

“I think I’ll try not to run them off, and try to take some of their money,” Skerbetz says.

Patrick Stuhldreher, general manager of Tire Source’s five locations in Akron and Canton, Ohio, says the shops will install those tires, but employees also make a point of showing that customer an invoice of what those tires would have cost if they were purchased from Tire Source, and what added services the purchase would have included.

“Everybody’s got their opinion about whether buying tires online is good or evil,” Bittner says. “But every single one of us are online consumers. We’ve all bought something online, so we’re all dancing with the devil at some point. We’ve just got to understand this is the way marketing is headed and retail is going along with it.”

The growth of online sales has DD Coley wondering,” Are we missing out?” She’s a second generation owner, with her brothers, of Consumer Tire Inc. in Mentor, Ohio. Coley says the family business does install tires bought online, but not enough to match the growth in those sales in recent years.

“No matter how much people buy tires online, you’ve got to have somebody to install them,” Bittner says. “You’ve got that trump card in your favor.”

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