Super Mario goes to Florida: Know-how and enthusiasm pay off for dealers
The gauntlet had been thrown down at his feet, so Justin Ellison simply picked it up.
Ellison, the owner of City Boys Tire & Brake Inc. in High Springs, Fla., was attending the Tire Wholesale Warehouse (TWW) TireStarz USA Dealer Meeting in Las Vegas, Nev. When Bridgestone/Firestone's John Gamauf offered an appearance by Mario Andretti as an incentive to sell more Bridgestone Turanza LS tires, he knew who would finish first.
"I went to my reps and said, 'Mario Andretti is coming to High Springs,'" says Ellison, 32. He was right. Within a three-month span, City Boys sold 1,000 of the tires, one-sixth of its yearly tire total.
He did not know, however, that Tire Mart in nearby Lake City, Fla., would finish second, making the trip easier on Andretti.
How did he do it? "I think it was pricing," says Ellison. "We had them priced right, which made the tires competitive with the other high-end products that we had.
"Also, we had the experience from the (Turnaza LS) drive and learn, so we could relay the information to the customers." Television and newspaper advertising added to the sales push.
Ellison did not low-ball the price just to win the contest. "We don't want City Boys to have the image we have the least expensive tire. We want people to walk out of here with a good tire at a good price.
"Eighty-five percent of our customers are return customers. We tell them, 'We're not interested in how much you spend with us today. We want you to be our customer for the next 20 years.' It kind of takes them off the defensive. We're not trying to take advantage of them."
Both City Boys and Tire Mart tied Andretti's appearances to promotional events. Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire LLC (BFNA) sponsored go-kart raffles and provided a Patrick Racing Indycar, racing simulator and 20-foot high inflatable version of the Firestone Firehawk mascot to both dealerships.
"It was the enthusiasm of the dealers that ensured its success," says Mark Johnson, region marketing manager for BFNA.
City Boys helped raise money for the Stop! Children's Cancer charity with a live auction. Jim Burke, owner of Tire Mart, raised money for CARC (Columbia Association for Retarded Citizens), which provides training, employment and other opportunities for people with disabilities.
City Boys is expected to reach the $1.5 million mark in sales this year with the help of Andretti's visit, according to Ellison. "On a big promotional day, I don't look at what we did that day, I look at the residual effect -- how much did we make over a week's time after the event compared to last year? (They were up 20%.) The actual day of the promotion you might do less.
"The Mario Andretti promotion was to bring awareness to our store, bring awareness to the charity, and have fun."
It did all three. Sometimes winning is everything.