Dealer sows good will, reaps light truck tire sales
Despite the slow economy, business has been brisk at Texas Tire and Accessory LP in Hallettsville, Texas. Right now, oil and gas drilling production activity related to the nearby Eagle Ford shale formation is driving new customers into the 7,600-square-foot shop owned and operated by Todd Schindler.
Drilling in the vast 400-mile-long shale formation is generating thousands of jobs in southeastern Texas. As drilling and oil field services companies step up hiring, Schindler’s employees are rigging trucks with toolboxes and grille guards for their workers.
The impact has been significant. Year-to-date, tire sales are up 10%, while accessories purchased by oil industry workers have boosted overall sales by 30%. In contrast, overall sales increased 5% in 2011 over 2010.
“Pipeline manufacturers, drillers and others come through as their sector of business is developed and then they are gone. We appreciate their business but it is not long-term,” says Schindler.
“We cannot survive on them in the long run. We must take care of our local customers.”
The economic downturn didn’t hit this rural area of Texas as hard as other parts of the nation, according to Schindler. As many people farm and ranch, the community was able to absorb the layoffs that did occur.
Yet a relatively stable economy alone would not have kept an independent tire dealer afloat in a community of just 2,700 people. Texas Tire and Accessory survived because Schindler and his employees never see revenue walking in the door. Instead, they welcome individuals and families looking for high-quality tires, products and services at a fair price.
To show his appreciation for their business, Schindler supports something that matters very much to his customers: youth development. Texas Tire and Accessory contributes to 4-H and Future Farmers of America (FFA). Money to cover the ribbons, belt buckles, trophies and banners that recognize youth achievement is donated by Texas Tire and Accessory. “We don’t do this for the advertising. We do it because it’s the right thing to do,” says Schindler.
However, doing the right thing for the area’s children resonates strongly with the community’s adults.
The 4-H and FFA members appreciate and remember Texas Tire and Accessory, as do the volunteers who stage the livestock shows, market auctions and county fairs. And, of course, the parents remember, too.
Women and light trucks
In this part of Texas, many of the moms whose children participate in 4-H and FFA need a pickup truck to keep pace with their families’ activities. “It’s not uncommon to see a woman drive a 3/4-ton, four-door pickup,” says Schindler.
Most families own at least one truck; many have several. So it’s no surprise that sales of light truck tires make up about half of Schindler’s business, with women making about 50% of those purchases. When shopping for replacement tires for their vehicles, about half of the women buy LT-metric sized truck tires; the other half purchase P-metric tires.
Most of Schindler’s female customers drive light trucks, CUVs or SUVs. He turns to his inventory of Michelin, Goodyear, BFGoodrich and Uniroyal products for a tire that matches the vehicle’s weight and intended use.
Beyond personalizing products and services to an individual’s vehicle needs, Schindler feels respect is the most important part of the buying experience for women. “Be very respectful because women make the dollar decisions in many families.”
Safety trumps price
The dollar decision does not always revolve around getting the lowest price. The brands Schindler carries seem to be at odds with consumer trends to shop for low prices. While it is true that thrift has become a watchword for families in today’s tight economy, consumers are willing to pay a premium for value, he says. And they see value in safety.
“Yes, women are price-conscious. But they are also safety-conscious. Safety is a bigger factor than price. When we discuss safety, I mention the tires I have on my family’s cars. I tell them it is worth more dollars to me to have my wife and four daughters arrive at their destination safely.”
The brands Schindler sells are proven performers, which helps ensure customer satisfaction. He typically stocks what he considers to be higher-quality products. “I don’t want comebacks because of failure,” he says. “We want to make sure customers remember they did not have problems with our service or tires. The only time I sell a lower-priced tire is when customers demand one or that’s all they can afford. I don’t look for the cheapest tire because I want it to last.”
Schindler’s shop has earned a reputation for offering quality at a fair price, which appeals to both women and men.
“When people hear my pricing, they consider it very fair,” he says. “When asked how I do it, I tell them I don’t try to get rich off one transaction.” There is yet another dimension to his pricing strategy. “There are no surprises with us. The reason for our success is our philosophy to give customers the total price.”
Schindler’s shop has been a fixture in this small southeastern Texas community for the last 10 years. With a service station and agricultural vehicle supplier his lone competitors, he says most would consider his operation the only game in town.
But he’s not isolated from the challenges facing independents in larger markets. Big-box retailers, new-car dealerships, repair-service chains and other competitors try to coax Schindler’s customers away. “My goal is to keep my customers from going to other cities for tires. I want to keep them here,” says Schindler.
Even though rural communities like Hallettsville radiate a sort of slow-paced ambience, there is no room for complacency. Customers, even if they are friends and neighbors — or perhaps because they are — constantly expect more and more value from local businesses.
Texas Tire and Accessory offers a broad range of products and services. “This small town cannot support an individual tire store, lube shop and accessory shop,” says Schindler. “We pulled it all together. Our diversity helps us stay in business.”
Services offered in the three-bay garage include oil changes, lube, tire balancing and flat repair. In the accessory shop, customers find grille guards, steps, bumpers, tool boxes and spray-on bed liners.
An accessory Schindler initially shied away from now accounts for about 10% of total sales. “Spray-on bed liners are an example of the diversity that keeps us alive,” he says.
Customers bringing in their vehicles for tires, services or accessories know they will get an accurate estimate of the time required as well as a fair price. It’s something time-pressed customers appreciate.
“Most drop off their vehicles,” says Schindler. “A lot of women work in town and will drop off their or their husband’s car and come back later. We are truthful about the wait. It gives them the ability to adjust their schedules.”
Cultivate a connection
Schindler chooses promotional strategies to match his customers’ expectations and values. With the start of spring baseball season, community members will see him at the fields coaching and helping with field improvements. His support of 4-H and FFA will continue. As many of his customers are avid hunters, Schindler participates in hunting-focused trade shows.
Ann Neal is a freelance writer with more than two decades of experience managing employee, financial and marketing communications and Web content in the commercial trucking industry.