Coastal care: Oregon dealer keeps drivers safe with battery checks, winter wheels and chains

Dec. 1, 2007

Newport, Ore., is right on the Pacific Coast. "We're as far west as you can get," jokes Ken Brown, co-owner of Alan Brown Tire Center in Newport. The small town of roughly 9,900 people doesn't see a lot of ice or snow, but certainly gets its share of rain and damp, chilly air, especially during early winter.

"For us, living on the coast, the big thing is corrosion from salt - not the salt that you put on the roads but salt from the environment, coming off the ocean," says Brown.

Some of this corrosion takes hold underneath the hoods of vehicles. Brown and his employees see lots of cars and trucks with corroded battery terminals. Often, he says, customers aren't even aware of the problem.

Battery work is a good business to be in this time of year, according to Brown. His techs test batteries using two different machines that measure load. "We test the draw-down on the battery. Most batteries are sealed so you can't do a hydrometer test. Plus the draw-down test is usually more accurate.


"We try to sell it by asking the customer, 'Do you want your battery checked?' If they say no, we won't do it."

Typically about 50% of his customers agree to it. Those who don't usually say they'll have it done somewhere else.

One service that a lot of customers take advantage of is swapping their custom wheels for winter wheels, Brown reports. It's a big business in his area. "Our weather wreaks havoc on custom wheels."

He describes winter wheels as "plain Jane gray or black steel wheels" that favor functionality over style.

"In Oregon, they use magnesium chloride on the road, and as they use more and more of it, more people want to take their 20-inch wheels off."

Brown has turned wheel swap-outs into an opportunity to up-sell. "Our selling point is that if they buy an extra set of tires and wheels, there's no charge for switching the wheels back and forth." This approach has been successful as customers will often opt for a set of winter tires and winter wheels, knowing that they can switch back to summer tires and wheels when spring arrives.

Brown also will accommodate customers who want winter wheels but aren't interested in a set of winter tires. "But you have to pay for it."

Brown notes that his dealership does not store custom wheels that have been removed.

"We used to do that, but it became a problem with the high volume that we have. If you only have 10 or 12 customers, (you can do it), but if you have 5,000 or 6,000 customers, it's kind of hard to do. "You'd have to have a warehouse that's bigger than your store!" he says with a laugh.

"Our customers have a tendency to say if the weather is mild they're not going to maintain their vehicles as well," says Brown. But on the Oregon coast, beautiful as it may be, a little preparation can go a long way.

Best Practices: Tips -- Selling snow chains

Ken Brown, co-owner of Alan Brown Tire Center in Newport, Ore., says another lucrative winterization niche in his market is the sale and application of snow chains.

"Chains are required in a lot of areas in our state." In recent years Oregon has seen an influx of people moving from more expensive locales like southern California, "so as our population increases, we're going to sell more chains."