Don't be a lost ball in high weeds!

Nov. 2, 2010

Rubber companies’ and independent research studies I’ve read have shown that 65% of all tire shoppers research the Internet before making a “destination decision,” the decision of which company they will call or visit.

The question, then, is this: What is your digital footprint?

When I was a Little Leaguer, eight years old, I would practice grounders and pop flies with my cousin at my grandparents’ house. We practiced next to an open field, and from time to time the ball would bounce into the field of tall weeds and get lost. We would look for the ball, but soon lost interest in actually finding it. It was easier to get grandpa to find it for us. He would find the ball, and laugh and tell us that we were just “lost balls in high weeds.”

You cannot afford to be a “lost ball in high weeds” in our new digital world. As the world moves toward greater dependence on digital solutions for information and research, you must move with the changes.

You must be where consumers are looking! Nobody looks at refrigerator or mattress ads until they are ready to buy. The same is true for tires and auto services.

Where do people search for goods and services today? They search the Internet. In 2001 a mere 2% of people utilized online searching capabilities. Now it’s over 44% and growing fast.

Your digital footprint must include two critical foundations: You must have a local business listing in your local digital Yellow Pages.  Secondly, you must have a Web site.

Don’t assume that your local phone number listing is correct in the digital Yellow Pages. Last month while working with a client, we discovered they had an old, discontinued phone number listed. Revisit this with your local provider. Many companies are now providing additional features such as maps, audio messages, online coupons and more. Video is also available and can communicate your message in ways that print never could.

You would never consider locking the front door of your store or turning off your phone during business hours; therefore, you must have your Web site open for business! Consider this: Whose phone number are your customers getting if you don’t have an online presence? Tire company-owned stores? Mail-order companies? Other independents?


Even if you have a Web site, determine that you are going to improve it. Make improving your Web site an urgent priority. Here is what the studies show and I recommend:

1. You must have a clear message. Tell people who you are and what you can do. Think of your Web site as a digital business card listing your business name, telephone numbers, hours of operation, address, etc.

2. You must have a relevant message. There is more room on a Web site than in a newspaper ad. Your Web site should be full of relevant content; however, don’t let the availability of space cause you to bury the relevant in the redundant. Get to the point quickly!

3. Pictures and videos are an important tool to tell your story. We all know the old adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Pick photos carefully. Pictures must be clear and assist in communicating your message. Videos are to be short, clear and concise. In our YouTube world, anything over five minutes is way too long.

4. Offers must be compelling. People now more than ever are looking for value. If you are having a sale, an anniversary event, $50 off, whatever the case may be, then get that message in their face fast!

Surveys show that if the Web site is boring or dull, then an online consumer will “walk” out of your store and “drive” to another with a few simple keystrokes.

5. The home page is critical. Put a short video with your compelling message on the home page. You must pique the consumer’s interest quickly.

Avoid the temptation to put too much information on the home page. Too many pictures, too many words, and too many videos can be confusing.

I call that confusion “the ransom note effect.”  The home page must be professional and convincing.

6. Sell the visit. As a traditional tire and service outlet, you are a “brick and mortar” business. Web sites are nice, but what you need is a customer. You need someone to show up at your store with their car and some money and a problem that you can fix. Keep in mind, your Web site is designed to get someone to call or show up!

7. Be friendly and sell trust. Tell an online visitor to your Web site that you are trustworthy. All studies point to the fact that consumers are always looking for people whom they can trust.

8. Don’t be an ostrich. This week I visited a very professional tire retailer with a long history of success.

The owner, like many I’ve spoken with before, openly admits to the fact that he is not up-to-date on the Web and computers. He said he relies on Betty Lou (not her real name) to handle the “Web site stuff.”

Later, as I talked with Betty Lou for about 15 minutes, she admitted that she isn’t really satisfied with the Web site and can’t seem to get anyone to do a good job. Actually, Betty Lou is frustrated and needs real help.

He/she/they must get into the digital game for real. The company has the finances, along with a great story to tell. If Mr. Successful Tire Dealer continues to be an ostrich he will eventually be a “lost ball in high weeds.”

Until next time, I’m looking forward to seeing you all at the Specialty Equipment Market Association Show!  

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