Tire Pros Ramps Up Advertising and Training to Compete on a National Scale

March 17, 2016

If the Tire Pros franchise of American Tire Distributors Inc. (ATD) was a chain of stores operated by a single independent dealer, it would rank No. 3 on the 2015 Modern Tire Dealer 100 list.

Tire Pros would land between TBC Corp.’s 769 stores (competing as Tire Kingdom, Merchant’s Tire & Auto Centers, NTB, and Big O Tires) and Monro Muffler Brake Inc.’s 490 outlets (competing as Mr. Tire, Tread Quarters Discount Tires, Autotire, Tire Warehouse, Tire Barn, Towery’s Tire and Auto Care, and The Tire Choice).

But Tire Pros is competing with national retailers as a franchise that ended 2015 with 504 independent dealers operating 704 outlets in 44 states (there are no Tire Pros outlets in Michigan, North Dakota, New Hampshire, Vermont, Alaska and Hawaii). That’s a 271% increase in outlets since 2008, when there were 222 Tire Pros locations in 18 states.

Between Jan. 1 and the start of the dealer conference on Feb. 21, Tire Pros added 12 locations. By the end of 2016, the franchise expects to have 785 stores. “I’m confident in 2016 we’ll pick up the other four states in the Lower 48 so we’ll truly be border-to-border,” Tire Pros President Dan Brown told dealers attending the franchise’s national business conference Feb. 21-23 in San Diego, Calif.

Building a consumer brand

The Tire Pros franchise is in the midst of a transition from a coast-to-coast network of independent tire dealers to a national retail brand.

“Growth is good for all of us and very important as we establish credibility and recognition in the industry and in consumers’ minds,” Brown told dealers. “The goal of the national advertising program is to develop Tire Pros into a consumer-recognized brand.”

In 2015, Tire Pros spent a little more than $2 million on a national advertising program with major collegiate athletic conferences across the country. Dealers and ATD contributed about $1 million each to last year’s program. In addition, Tire Pros managed more than $15 million in regional and local ad campaigns for its dealers last year. The multiple campaigns brought total advertising close to $18 million.

The resources devoted to raising consumer awareness of the Tire Pros brand separates the franchise from program groups, according to Brown. “We’re really working to build a national brand that is recognized as a value proposition that consumers understand and are attracted to because of their positive experiences.”

The branding efforts contributed to a 6% increase in overall unit tire purchases for the average Tire Pros dealer in 2015. Dealers who joined Tire Pros during the year helped push up unit sales for the entire franchise by 10%.

Promoting buy local campaigns

Tire Pros will continue its national, regional and local advertising efforts in 2016. The Tire Pros brand promise is a hassle-free purchase from a locally owned business. To help dealers leverage the buy local message, Tire Pros is continuing its partnership with Independent We Stand, an organization which promotes the importance of local businesses to local economies. The organization provides marketing and point-of-sale materials, social media support and other resources to help dealers stand out from big box retailers.

Support of local charities also distinguishes Tire Pros dealers from retail chains.

“Everybody has things that are close to their hearts,” said Wes Stephenson, vice president of operations. “We wanted that to continue, but we realized it would serve us well if we had one cause we could support coast-to-coast.” Tire Pros found that cause in the “Allies for Independence” campaign, which was introduced to dealers at the conference.

The campaign will equip wounded American servicemen and women with all-terrain wheelchairs customized to their specific needs and interests. It will be conducted in partnership with The Independence Fund, a national veterans’ non-profit organization that offers tools, therapies and resources that are otherwise unavailable to American veterans with service-related disabilities.

Tire Pros dealers will work within their markets to raise money and awareness for the organization’s mobility program. The campaign will include a series of promotions around key patriotic holidays.

For the first time, Tire Pros dealers will have a mascot to support their local events. Dealers reacted favorably to the new Hootie Owl, placing orders for 3,000 small plush Hootie Owl toys for use as giveaways before the conference was half over. Brown says the mascot provides an appealing and memorable visual representation for use at community events.

Protecting the dealer’s brand

In addition to marketing and advertising support, Tire Pros provides thousands of hours of training to help dealers better compete in their markets. Last year, Tire Pros delivered a record 7,402 hours of training on topics from selling skills and store operations for store employees to high level business training for owner principals. At the annual conference, there were nine educational sessions on topics ranging from merchandising and branding to TireBuyer.com, ATD’s e-commerce website.

“I thought TireBuyer.com would be competition, but it has taken away competition,” says Joe Muzzi III, owner of Joe’s Tire and Appliance Inc., which does business as Joe’s Tire Pros in Greenville, Miss. “Every customer brought in by TireBuyer.com has been new at zero acquisition cost. They are really looking for more value. They don’t want the lowest priced tire. They are buying the better tire. They want the lowest price on the better tire.” Muzzi has worked in the five-bay store his father founded since 1973 and has owned it since 2005.

The Tire Pros umbrella helps protect a dealer’s local brand, says Brown. Independents are the face of their businesses, giving them a huge advantage over chain stores. “The disadvantage is the scale the big guys bring to the table. The expertise in marketing, the ability to share best practices across all their stores and execute those best practices, those are things we balance out through the Tire Pros franchise,” Brown told dealers.

“We are the brand of the independent dealer. The brands we sell are important but the brand that’s most important is the name that’s on your business. It’s all about the independent.”   ■

About the Author

Ann Neal

Ann Neal is a former senior editor at Modern Tire Dealer.