Problem solver

Sept. 22, 2010

Nate Zolman, president of Zolman Tire in Mishawaka, Ind., says he has some tough competition in his marketing area. But their methods of operation have created a niche opportunity for his company.

Mail-order giant The Tire Rack’s headquarters (and a retail outlet) are in his town. It sells and installs tires but does not perform alignments. Neither do the three Discount Tire Co. outlets in his market.

“The trend in our market is fewer and fewer places doing alignments,” says Zolman. The company therefore concentrates on being the “go to” shops for that service. 

Its six locations also excel in other automotive services and sell Bridgestone, Firestone, Dayton, Goodyear, Dunlop, Continental, General, Kumho and Mastercraft brand tires, plus others requested by its customers. The dealership sells all types of tires, from passenger through heavy-duty truck, including ag tires and Bandag retreads.

Creating lifelong customers

Zolman Tire just price matches any local tire dealer’s price — even their on-line pricing. It then offers a free alignment check with all tires purchased from them. They have their apprentice technicians perform the alignment checks, which take five to 10 minutes.

“We find that more than 50% are within manufacturers’ specs,” Zolman says. “We’re honest, fair and conservative with our alignment checks.” The customer is often astounded when Zolman doesn’t try to sell them an immediate alignment. “That creates a lifelong customer,” he says. “We’re looking for base hits, not home runs.” 

They also perform free alignment checks on vehicles in the shop for other service. “If a car sits in our shop, it goes on an alignment rack. If everything is in spec, we tell the customer that we checked it and found it to be OK. We tell them that if within the next six months they feel the car drifting, to come back in for service. It plants a seed in their minds. They become critical of their car’s performance. They often come back and tell us to ‘Just do the service.’”

On the schedule

Zolman Tire’s headquarters building has 15 retail bays, with two dual alignment pits. One is reserved for scheduled alignments, and one is for “work-ins” and free alignment checks. The other satellite locations have from eight to 10 bays each, with one rack at each facility allotted for alignments. “In a perfect world, we’d do one alignment an hour,” says Zolman. The shops do anywhere from 100 to 200 alignments per month.

Zolman Tire also has a 10,000-square-foot fleet repair facility where it can perform alignments on trucks. “Some truckers are penny-wise and pound-foolish,” says Zolman. “They’ll buy a set of tires hoping to get 100,000 miles when an alignment could as much as double the tread life.”     ■


Alignments are big business -- MTD survey says profit margins are high

Independent tire dealers in the United States performed close to 21 million alignment jobs representing more than $1.7 million in sales in 2009.

The 2009-2010 Modern Tire Dealer Automotive Service Survey breaks down alignment service work per store. The service represents 10.2% of all automotive service dollars.

Seventy-seven percent of the respondents performed this service, broken out per location as follows:

• Average ticket price per job: $83.89

• Average number of jobs per month: 60

• Average yearly sales: $60,401

• Average profit margin: 69%

• Annual profit per location: $41,677

Know your strengths and make the most of your resources

Mike McCoy, national account manager for Bee Line Co., says there are things dealers can do to increase their alignment business:

• Hang signage above your service bays that promotes your wheel alignment service. Equipment manufacturers will have a variety of banners and signs available. “That makes the customer think about the service right away,” says McCoy.

• Have your service managers take advantage of handouts and brochures from the equipment manufacturers which explain the alignment process.

• Promote your alignment expertise in your newspaper, TV and radio ads and especially on your Web site.

• Offer coupons in Val-Pak and other types of direct mail packages for free alignment checks or money off on alignments.

• Promote alignments in conjunction with a tire sale — buy a set of tires and get some kind of special on alignment or a free alignment check.

“The shop owner should look at what he has as resources,” says McCoy. “Does he have the highly qualified technicians, guys who have been doing alignments for years and are very meticulous and knowledgeable? These shops become known in their markets as the ‘problem solvers.’”

If this describes your shop, “promote yourself, pay your technicians well. People will come from miles around to get the good service. And then don’t price your alignment at a give-away price.

“You’ll be dealing with people with issues, who have been to other shops to get their vehicles corrected without satisfaction. Capture this audience, fix the vehicle correctly, and while you’re at it, look for other parts that need replacement. One of my mottos is,

‘Usually the alignment doesn’t change, something changes the alignment.’ So don’t miss those other sales.”

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.