Image consciousness: Dealer remodels store to exceed

Feb. 1, 2007

Image is everything in today’s retail environment. That’s the opinion of Garrett Garofolo, president of Deerfield Tire Co., a single-outlet dealership in Deerfield, Ill., a northern Chicago suburb.

This past August, Garofolo spent $25,000 to completely overhaul his store’s interior.

He says it was money well spent. Customer reaction to the shop’s new, “home-like” interior was “completely unbelievable.”

Months later, Garofolo continues to receive compliments. More importantly, he says, the redesign is having a positive impact on his bottom line.

“If you walk into any retail store -- I don’t care what it is -- the overall sense of what everybody is trying to accomplish is a home-like atmosphere, where the customer can feel as comfortable as possible and not feel that they are in a business establishment.”

That comfort level translates into more tire and auto repair sales, he explains.


Out with the old

Deerfield Tire’s interior wasn’t in desperate need of a facelift. The store sported a checkerboard, performance-oriented race flag theme, had plenty of room and was always clean.

“The problem was that the store simply looked dated,” says Garofolo. “The displays were about 12 years old, the counter was about 10 years old… not that they were worn out or broken. It was just an (old) theme.”

He decided to give the store a “softer” look. We took out my office and made it a customer waiting lounge. We put in a 46-inch flat screen TV. We put in a Wi-Fi counter.”

He also moved the store’s sales counter from the side of the room to the center of the room to free up more space for displays.

Deerfield Tire is a member of the Bridgestone Firestone Affiliated Dealer Operations program group. The 950-member organization has national accounts with paint suppliers, lighting suppliers, flooring suppliers and other services.

“They can give you a good-better-best paint selection,” says Garofolo. “They can supply you with a manufacturer from whom you can get a floor at a reduced rate.”

The group also provides display and counter materials. “They have a high performance tire display, which is in my front window.”

Garofolo was in charge of hiring his own subcontractors. “I had to hire my own people to cut the floor, move the electricity, do construction in the office area, etc. I coordinated it and made sure everything worked out.”


Barry Feasel, general manager of the Bridgestone Firestone Affiliated Dealer group, applauds Garofolo’s progressiveness. “These days shopping is more about the experience for the customer than just a product and a price.”

He cites the popularity of gourmet coffee house chain Starbuck’s as an example. “Whether you’re in the tire industry or selling coffee, customers’ expectations have changed.”

The move toward more high and ultra-high performance tires and the proliferation of higher-ticket items like run-flats have played a role in this shift.

The ultra-high performance tire buyer “is typically higher end, maybe higher income and has more discretionary funds,” says Feasel.

“Price becomes secondary to them. It’s more about the experience they have when they make the purchase. We’re trying to help our retailers get out of that 1970s mode.”

Good looks, good service

Building a good store image goes beyond physical improvements, says Garofolo. It also extends to service.

“We vacuum the floor of every car that comes in. When you open the door that’s what the customer sees. We wash the window because they look out the window.

“Say a customer comes in for an oil change or a new set of tires; it’s not something they can call their friends over and say, ‘Hey, look at my new tires!’ They don’t check the oil and say, ‘Oh, that’s clean oil and it’s filled right to the top!’


“Doing the job is expected. It’s the perception part that keeps the customer loyal to you. Some customers come in with a chip on their shoulders and they don’t really know what to expect. When you can soften it up, (making the sale is) that much simpler.”

“Retailers have to do something to stand out,” says Feasel. “Most consumers are not thrilled about coming to a tire and auto service center to start with. I joke with our dealers that we’re right below the dentist on the scale of where people want to go, because most people don’t budget for these types of purchases.

“I stress to our members that they have to make the customer as comfortable as possible when they come into the store. Customers have to feel they’re in a place that’s clean and neat because that translates into ‘This is the level of service I’m going to get from this facility.’”

At the end of the day, Garofolo says he didn’t need to update his store based on its sales, which were already good.

“But I needed to get to where today’s expectations are. Walk into any store you want -- from a Kohl’s to a Sears to a Macy’s -- and they don’t look like they did five years ago. They don’t look like they did two years ago.”

Customers have become accustomed to being pampered, he adds. “If you don’t step out of the box and give it to them, they’ll go somewhere else. That’s why we felt it was a no-brainer to do this.”

Family-friendly: Dealership lets kids play while moms buy tires

When Dave and Dennis Bucher opened their dealership, Family Tire & Auto Service, in October 2005, they knew they wanted an up-to-date look for their store.

“When we went to design this building I had a number of people tell me, ‘Oh, just put up a sheet metal building. It’s about the repairs, not the looks,’” reports Dave, who says he knew better.

“My dad was with Bridgestone/Firestone for 40 years and I was with them for a number of years out of college. We knew we wanted a store that was very pleasing to the eye not only externally but also in the interior.”


Many of Family Tire’s customers are women, who tend to care more about store appearance than men do, he says.

A good number of Family Tire’s female customers also bring their children with them.

Because of this, the Buchers turned part of their showroom into a play area.

“Let’s face it: a woman comes in here and needs an alignment, a state inspection and an oil change; you’re talking about two hours of work,” says Dave. “If she has two young kids with her and you don’t have any way to entertain them, it’s difficult -- not only for the mother but also for me because they’re running around and bothering everybody.

“We have a toy box that is fully stocked and a nice little table where they can sit and play. We believe it takes the heat off of us to keep them entertained. We’re the only store in this area that has these types of amenities.”