How Do You Sell Tires to Friends?

Sept. 30, 2016

We all have customers who are friends, probably many; however, we can’t trade on relationships alone, we must be better than that. If the customer standing in your store is a friend, don’t be offended if he or she has used their smartphone to do a little pre-shopping before they stopped in.

 I remember the first time a veteran salesman told me, “You better make a good margin on your friends, cuz your enemies don’t buy from you.” I thought I had to offer deep discounts to friends.

The comment changed my thinking forever. I understood that if I’m going to collect the right margins, I’d better offer better service.

 As independents, we have the ability and the wherewithal to offer added value to consumer tire purchases, to improve the purchase experience. It may seem that price is more of an issue today than ever; however, I’ve been selling tires and helping others sell tires for decades, and I can’t remember a time when customers mindlessly threw cash, checks, (remember checks) or credit cards at the sales staff and simply drove away happy.

I want to convince you that while you’re feeling the effects of change in our industry brought to you by growing regional retailers and manufacturers selling online, that trends and studies bode well for our continued success.

  • Customers make 70% of their final buying decisions at the store.
  • Customers want to deal with a knowledgeable sales staff.
  • Customers need information to make confident decisions.

 Studies indicate that consumers are more in control than ever before and they like it. However, there are other valid studies indicating just the opposite, consumers are struggling to select products due to the increasing number choices. Both of these studies make valid points.Last week a longtime friend sent me a text asking about tires for his son’s Chevy pickup truck. (There’s no escaping it, once a tire guy, always a tire guy.) I’m sure you’ll agree with me, his opening remarks are all too familiar. He starts with a confession that he doesn’t know much about tires, but he then proceeds to share his concerns, his findings and opinions, all the while intermingling his son’s concerns, findings, opinions and his son’s limited budget.

 Falling back on my vast tire knowledge and extensive sales skills, I dove right in. Though I was giving sound advice and touching on their concerns, findings and opinions, I discerned that I was moving too quickly, and my friend felt he was losing control. In an attempt to slow me down, he interjected some additional thoughts, and I realized what he was doing. My extensive sales skills overrode my impatience, and I slowed down.

 I was reminded that my friend was in tire buying mode. I was mistakenly trading on our relationship rather than being of service to a friend/consumer. My friend has bought tires from me for decades and has faithfully relied on my recommendations. He deserves both my friendship and professionalism. Today, his son is riding on four well-selected tires with a much needed front alignment.

 I share this thought regarding friends: they now have access to more information, and they are testing your responses against their findings. I must realize, as you do, that we are no longer the exclusive authority. My friend has access to the same internet as everyone else, and even your best customers, having bought tires from you and your company for years, are now pre-shopping before they call because that’s how people shop today. If I had been a better listener up front I would have realized my friend had more findings than in the past.

 If I mistakenly think that my relationship and expertise is enough, I’m wrong! It takes all the skill I have, all the experience I’ve gained, and all the knowledge and understanding of a changing path to purchase to really deliver the help that is necessary. If you and I rely only on experience, relationships and assumptions, our customers will be disappointed, and so will we.

 We must be professional at all times with everyone, especially friends. If we are honest with ourselves, relying too much on our relationships is a lazy sales approach. After all, customers/friends expect more; it’s our job to deliver, daily.  

Wayne Williams is president of ExSell Marketing Inc. in La Habra, Calif. He can be reached at [email protected].

To read more Counter Intelligence columns, see:

There are Only Two Problems You Can Have in a Tire Store

Beware of Routing Dullness: Invest $25 and a Little Time in You and Your Career

Leading Up the Hill or Off the Cliff: Make Your Employees See the Light or Feel the Heat

About the Author

Bob Ulrich

Bob Ulrich was named Modern Tire Dealer editor in August 2000 and retired in January 2020. He joined the magazine in 1985 as assistant editor, and had been responsible for gathering statistical information for MTD's "Facts Issue" since 1993. He won numerous awards for editorial and feature writing, including five gold medals from the International Automotive Media Association. Bob earned a B.A. in English literature from Ohio Northern University and has a law degree from the University of Akron.