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Counter sales: I thought I’d heard it all

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Counter sales: I thought I’d heard it all

As an example, it never ceases to amaze me to watch people order at McDonald’s. First, they stare at the menu board as if they had never been to McDonald’s. Once the customer voices their selection, the counter person begins barking questions at the customer such as, “Medium or large?” and “Would you like a ‘whatever’ to go with that?” Rarely is the order complete without some add-on questions. Well, if it proceeds down this path when ordering a hamburger and fries, you can imagine the potential for add-on questions and answers when shopping for tires.

Recently I was asked by a client in the retail tire business to perform a market survey which was to be presented at an upcoming tire meeting. The survey was to cover tire installation prices, procedures and programs offered by the major competitors in the Los Angeles area.

Having done this many, many times in the past, I set out with a preconceived idea of how it might go. My findings were interesting and enlightening to myself, my client, and the dealers. You may feel the same.

I visited the two largest warehouse clubs in Los Angeles: Sam’s and Costco. I also visited independent dealers and several of the largest retailers, local regional retailers, and national retailers.

Though some of what I saw and heard was not surprising, I will simply and discreetly report what I experienced.

First, a few overview comments:

• The warehouse clubs are well merchandised, doing a good job, and they have digital systems in place that facilitate the sales presentation.

• The largest retailer has integrated and adapted much of their online presentation to suit their in-store presentation.

• The regional retailer with the Manager of the Month is at a distinct disadvantage.

• The national retailer that sells parts, tires and service is struggling with poor presentations at the counter.

The two warehouse clubs were my first visits, and both were well merchandised.

In both cases, I was professionally greeted; the attendants listened well and made what I would consider targeted and solid suggestions.

Both clubs recommended the right product with the right load/speed rating and supported their recommendations with valid information. It was seamless and painless.

The current rebates offered on both Goodyear and Michelin brands were, again, seamlessly integrated into the presentation. It was easy to recognize that these associates had been trained.

To further make the sales presentation smooth and painless for the sales associate to present and for the customer to understand, the clubs offered one add-on: For $15 per tire, you received the complete package including mounting, balancing, stem, and extended warranty protection. Simple. Easy. Complete.

The largest retailer has done a fabulous job of integrating its online Web business data into its point-of-sales presentation. The computer monitor is on a swivel so the sales associate could easily interact with the customer, and believe me, it was working. A trainee was closely watched by the store manager, and they knew their way around the system. They were taking full advantage of the system’s abilities, and they recommended the best solution to meet my request. Even though they didn’t have the tire in stock, with a few key strokes, they knew exactly where the tires were locally located and promised delivery by the weekend to meet my stated deadline. The installation package was similar to the clubs: One add-on gets you the full package


A large regional retailer I visited employed an inattentive, know-it-all Manager of the Month who did not have a 205/55R16 in stock. He literally scolded me for not arriving earlier in the day so he could have gotten them for me that day. I made it clear I was only shopping for my daughter who would be in town the following weekend for Father’s Day. He then proceeded to say, “If I sell you something out of stock, I’ll have to charge you more.” He had already told me he didn’t have my size in stock.

I left with the computer-generated quote complete with item-by-item add-ons that totaled $12.50 more per tire than the clubs. In-stock tires cost more and so do the add-ons, $50 more per set. Fail.

Lastly, I visited a national retailer, the largest parts, service and tire store sponsoring a “National Tire Event” featuring Buy 3 Get the 4th Tire Free. After some casual conversation and three employees arguing who would help me, the loser presented me with three options. To my surprise, the Buy 3 Get the 4th Tire Free offer was substantially more money because the customer is required to purchase all the add-ons, including an alignment and the free tire. To receive the free tire, the consumer must pay first and then send in a mail-in-rebate. So the offer requires paying full price for all the add-ons, again, $50 more than the competition, paying for all the tires and an alignment.

My opening remarks about the comments and questions that seem useless and unproductive were taken to a new level as the employee promptly, clearly, concisely, and boldly told me that the Buy 3 Get the 4th Tire Free was a “total rip off.” He elaborated by telling me he doesn’t offer this to his customers because “my company is ripping people off.” Nothing I read indicated a real rip off other than the offer doesn’t work at the counter. The fine print is accurate, but it doesn’t match consumer or employee expectations. This is an example of a total lack of counter intelligence. If it doesn’t work at the counter, it doesn’t work!! This doesn’t work. Fail.

Several independent dealers offered real value, very courteous help and competitive pricing on installation and tires. Unable to offer the warranty at locations nationwide was a distinct disadvantage. The independents were aggressive in attempts to close the sales and aggressive from a pricing standpoint.

Consumers are seeking value like never before. Value means different things to different people and price is only part of the equation. Service, warranty and purchase experience matters.

Knowing what the competition is doing helps.    ■

Wayne Williams is president of ExSell Marketing Inc., a “counter intelligence” firm based in La Habra, Calif. He can be reached at

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