Low cost (but high impact) marketing

Nov. 3, 2010

When it comes to in-store promotions, some tire dealers go all-out. But sometimes the best promotions are the simplest. That’s what Clayton Snow, owner of Clayton’s Tire Pros in South Jordan, Utah, believes.

How does he lure customers into his single-location, 5,400-square-foot shop? With a common, everyday item: soda pop.

Every customer who spends at least $20 at Snow’s dealership goes home with a two-liter bottle of Coca-Cola, root beer or Sprite. The promotion doesn’t cost Snow a lot of money, but it has helped him generate a big buzz in the small city of South Jordan, a suburb of Salt Lake City.

In fact, the soft-spoken dealer says his soda giveaway has been more effective than traditional advertising.

Would you like a drink with that?

Snow opened his dealership in 1997. Around Christmas time that year, he began handing out soda as a holiday gift to customers. Later he began giving away bottles with every purchase — even for $6 flat repairs.

“We thought it was cheaper to give away a bottle of pop than to give away a flat repair,” he says with a laugh.

Soon an unexpected thing happened: customers began asking for bottles.

“Our regulars would say, ‘Hey, where’s my pop?’ It became something that was attached to our business. The response was so good we decided to keep doing it.”

Thirteen years later, customers still ask for their soda! So do complete strangers, he adds.


“We’ve had some funny phone calls over the years. One time I had a call from somebody who said, ‘I don’t know if I’ve called the right place, but are you the people who give away the root beer?’ You get some interesting reactions. Sometimes I tease people and say, ‘You know, you can buy this anywhere for a dollar!’”

New customers, he says, are often taken by surprise when Snow or one of his salesmen hands them a two-liter at the end of a transaction.

“The element of surprise is just great. Yesterday a young couple was here and they spent $275 on a set of entry-level tires. We finished the job, they handed over their money, I gave them a root beer, and they let out a laugh! People get so excited over a bottle of soda.”

When asked to analyze why the promotion has been so successful, Snow pauses for a moment.

“I think there are several things about it. One is that people spend $300 a week at the grocery store and they don’t get as much as a free grape. We all like the idea of getting something for nothing. I go to tire conventions and know that if someone is giving something away, everybody will be lined up at their booth.

“The other aspect that works for us is the fact that the sale doesn’t end when the money changes hands and the customer leaves the store. They take their Coca-Cola home. A lot of them will even say, ‘My kids love it when I come to the tire store to get a bottle of soda.’

“The conversation continues beyond the point when they leave. In other words, a brake job isn’t just a brake job with a ‘Thank you and let me know if you have any problems.’ They take a root beer home and they crack it open and pour it over some ice cream and everybody has a conversation about it.

“Or maybe tomorrow night their neighbor is having a barbecue and they show up with a two-liter of root beer and say, ‘Clayton’s Tire Pros gave this to us.’ We become part of their conversations even after the sale.”

As an added touch, Snow puts a small mailing label on every bottle listing his company’s name, address and phone number, plus a short “thank you” message.

“It’s not like customers go home and say, ‘Oh man, I bought some tires today and they’re so round and pretty.’ It’s something else to talk about. It’s something that ties us to them. If they take a bottle home and put it in the cupboard, the next time they open the cupboard they will think, ‘Oh, I know where I got that.’


“It’s amazing how people will spend $800 or $900 and then you set that root beer on the counter in front of them and you get this giddy little laugh out of them,” he continues.

Snow also tries to inject some humor of his own into the situation. “Sometimes when someone has had a repair that was particularly painful, I’ll hand them a bottle and say, ‘Maybe this will help!’ or I’ll just hand a soda to a customer and say, ‘Here, drink this straight. You’ll feel better!’”

Snow estimates he’s given away up to 60,000 two-liters over the years. He used to buy them at his local supermarket. Several years ago, he hired a beverage distributor to deliver them. “Their salesman checks in with us once a week. The bottles come in cases. We buy eight to 10 cases a week.”

This seemingly straightforward promotion does have an ironic twist: Snow himself doesn’t drink soda!

Smooth transformation

Earlier this year, Snow used clever in-store marketing to resolve a potentially sticky situation.

A long-time American Car Care Center (ACCC) member, he decided to join American Tire Distributors Inc.’s Tire Pros dealer program. (He remains an ACCC dealer-member.)

As part of the changeover, he decided to switch his dealership’s name from Clayton Snow’s ACCC to Clayton’s Tire Pros.

Snow had been an ACCC dealer since he opened his doors in 1997. “When we joined Tire Pros, we had to find a way to convince people that it was still us, and that we hadn’t gone anywhere.”

Some customers are leery of name changes, particularly during tough economic times, he says.

“They think that if you’ve changed your name something is wrong or you’re re-opening as something else. We had to convince people that this was not the case and that we (changed names) on purpose.”

At the time, Transformers toys were popular with kids thanks to a hit 2007 movie of the same name that had made its way to DVD format. “Early one morning, I woke up and had this idea about transformation. I thought that’s what we were trying to do — transform our business. I then thought of the Transformers movie and toys.”

He shared his idea with Tire Pros’ marketing department. Together, they came up with a postcard that would convey the message.


Snow then found someone who could help him buy a large quantity of Transformers-like toys. “They were Chinese knock-offs. I bought about 600 of them and then stapled the postcards to them. We had a big barrel of them and we’d just hand them out, mostly to customers’ kids. There were a lot of people who thought it was really cool.”

He also distributed the toys and cards to some of his business partners, including his bank.

“Some people at my bank were asking about the name change, so I took a bunch of toys to the bank. I’d go through the drive-through lane later and see the toys sitting on top of their computers or desks.”

Not all customers bought into the idea as readily, he admits. “I figured everyone would catch on and be fine with it, but some didn’t. Again, it has a lot to do with the times we’re living in.

“One customer came in and said, ‘My neighbor called the other day and asked where he should buy tires because Clayton is gone.’

“The customer told his friend, ‘Clayton isn’t gone. His store’s name has changed, but it’s still him.’ There were some people who got nervous about it.”

All in all, however, he considers his “transforming” promotion a success. And it didn’t require a huge outlay of money.

“I paid $1 apiece for the toys. They were cheap.

“For $600 or $700, I got a lot more mileage and distance out of that than a newspaper ad that would cost me $600, and the same with the soda.

“It’s an advertising expense. I get a lot more mileage out of 500 two-liters of root beer than I do out of an expensive newspaper ad.

“An ad is gone in two days but the root beer is still around. It helps with word-of-mouth, which is what we all say is the very best kind of advertising.”