Bridgestone Stores Eye Fleets for Growth

June 21, 2016

Bridgestone Retail Operations LLC (BSRO) is looking to more than double its share of the $10 billion-plus market of providing service and tires to passenger and light truck fleets across the country. If all goes well, the company-owned stores will accomplish that goal by 2020.

Amy Bonder is the woman charged with making it happen. She joined Bridgestone in July 2014 following six years at Advance Auto Parts Inc. while the parts supplier overhauled its strategy and shifted from a business primarily focused on retail sales and do-it-yourselfers to a supplier for other businesses. Bonder says the company went from a mix of 75% retail and 25% business-to-business (B2B) to a 60-40 mix with the larger focus on B2B.

While she was at work at Advance, the current president of BSRO, Stu Crum, was working for Shell Oil Corp.’s Jiffy Lube International, and he was well aware of the transformation happening at Advance. Crum joined Bridgestone in August 2013, and he brought Bonder on during his first year.

“We have about 4% market share. There’s no question I’d love to double our market share and there’s no question in my mind we can do that,” Bonder said in an exclusive interview with Modern Tire Dealer.

In order to get there, the tire maker’s retail division has opened what it calls a laboratory store in the Atlanta market for its B2B business. It’s focused fully on passenger and light truck fleets, everything from rental cars and landscapers to pharmaceutical sales teams, plumbers and pest control businesses. Currently, those fleets add up to 10% of Bridgestone’s overall business.

“We’ve got 2,200 stores in all these different neighborhoods and all of these companies are around us. So we’re saying how do we go out there and talk to these customers in these markets, understand what their needs are and how we can service them,” Bonder said. “Maybe we need to stay open later. Maybe they need a quick turnaround. Maybe they need us to work on their vehicles on Sundays when they’re not using them. All of these folks use their vehicles to make their living. If you’re a pharmaceutical sales rep, you could potentially grab your laptop while you’re waiting for your car to be worked on and you can potentially still be doing work. But if you’re a service and you’re waiting on your vehicle to be worked on, you’re not making money.”

Among the experiments underway in Atlanta is a bay built for speed. There’s also a showroom designed specifically for B2B customers. “We’re going to test and learn. It’s not per se about having the prettiest showroom, but if the pretty showroom is what the customer wants, then that’s important. But if that’s not what’s important to them, we’re going to dig deeper and understand their behavior and engagement.”

Bridgestone wants to become known for a superior customer service experience, but it also sees B2B as a way to increase car counts and bay utilization at its existing retail stores. Still, that doesn’t rule out the possibility of stand-alone operations to service these fleets.

“That’s something we’re wrestling with,” she said. “The beauty of using B2B with our 2,200 stores is you leverage the brick and mortar that’s already there. I would say that’s the main focus. We do have a commercial-only store (in Bridgeton, Mo., part of the St. Louis market). It’s been in play for a couple years so we’re trying to understand if we can do more of those. I think as we look at that it has to expand our current value prop, meaning it would have to expand the class of vehicles that we service.”

About the Author

Joy Kopcha | Managing Editor

After more than a dozen years working as a newspaper reporter in Kansas, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, Joy Kopcha joined Modern Tire Dealer as senior editor in 2014. She has covered murder trials, a prison riot and more city council, county commission, and school board meetings than she cares to remember.