Click and send: Burggraf Tire reaches far-flung customers by video e-mail

Jan. 1, 2007

Quapaw, Okla.-based Burggraf Tire has 350 to 400 active wholesale customers throughout Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana that it delivers product to on a weekly basis.

Many of these clients' facilities are located hundreds of miles from the Burggraf Tire's two distribution centers.

Securing regular face-to-face contact with decision-makers at those companies can be a real challenge. But where there's a will -- plus a little technology -- there's a way, says Burggraf Tire CEO and President Joe Karnes.

Since mid-September, Karnes and Burggraf Tire Vice President Ron Thrasher have been sharing pricing, product news and other information directly with customers via e-mailed video bulletins.

Using commercially available software and a basic Web camera that can be purchased at any electronics store, the pair have been filming and e-mailing spots to more than 250 recipients.

Customer feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, according to Thrasher. "Everyone wants to know how they can get the e-mails," he says. "It's opened a lot of eyes as to where this business is going."


Hi-tech is here

Earlier this year, Karnes was approached by a salesman who pitched the idea of e-mailing video bulletins to Burggraf Tire's retail customers.

Karnes liked the idea, but saw greater potential for it on the wholesale side of his business.

He bought the required software and a Web cam from a Lafayette, Ind.-based company called Co Video System Inc. and then downloaded the software into Burggraf's computer system in a matter of minutes. The Web cam cost $79, while a one-time licensing fee for the software cost $95.

Burggraf Tire also pays a monthly server access fee of $79. "Our server stores all of Burggraf's videos," says Co Video owner Eric Hoffman. "You stream it right off of our server."

The first thing Karnes did after filming his initial video was e-mail it to some of his tire suppliers. (Burggraf Tire sells Kelly, Goodyear, Cooper, Dean, Dunlop, Titan and other tire brands.) "You wouldn't believe their reaction!" he says.

Burggraf Tire formally introduced the service to customers at a late-September open house at its new distribution center in Baxter Springs, Kan. (The company's other warehouse is in Atlanta, Texas.) Using a Web cam, Karnes projected an image of himself onto a seven-foot-tall screen in front of some 130 attendees!

Burggraf Tire, which also has five retail outlets, now zaps e-mails to wholesale customers "who are located in places where I'd never dream a guy would have a computer," says Thrasher.

Thrasher and Karnes are fine-tuning the service to suit the needs and schedules of their clients. They generally keep videos to 30 seconds or less in length in order to hold viewer interest. "After you cut a video, you get a chance to preview it," says Karnes.

Burggraf Tire still provides paper materials for customers who aren't linked to the Web. "They just don't get it as quickly!" he says.


Karnes and Thrasher also want to have some fun with the service, such as creating holiday-themed bulletins. "We can even burn videos onto CDs and mail them out."

It wasn't all that long ago that the concept of a tire dealership using e-mailed videos to communicate with customers would be dismissed as a pipedream, according to Karnes. But the future is now, he says. "Technology is advancing every day. It's going to get more and more involved. The guy who's holding out knows his days are limited.

"It's like the tire dealer who (insists on only) selling broad-lines. 'I'm not going to sell high performance tires!'"

Dealers who don't incorporate technology into their operations "are going to be left in the dust."