Goodyear Opens a 'Test and Learn' Retail Lab

June 20, 2016

Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. is opening a state-of-the-art laboratory, and it’s open to the public. In fact, it’s designed for the public. The newest Goodyear-owned retail store is an official testing ground for the best practices in retailing.

“This is going to be a test and learn lab for us,” says Fred Thomas, vice president and general manager of Goodyear’s company-owned stores.

The Goodyear Auto Service store in Summit Mall is minutes away from the tire maker’s Akron headquarters. The company has had a store attached to the mall for 54 years, but on June 17 it moved from its traditional blue and gold store into a remodeled space formerly occupied by Firestone Complete Auto Care store on another side of the mall. The grand opening is July 15.

What stands out is the look of the store, but Thomas says it’s about more than just appearances. The company has studied world class retailers such as Starbucks, Target and Amazon, as well as retailers inside the tire industry. Goodyear also has mapped the journey consumers make when they buy tires.

“We’ve actually trailed people on their tire journey with cameras and interviews,” says Thomas. “How did you start your journey? What made you go to that retailer? When you got there what did you like? What didn’t you like?”

The questions all came before Goodyear ever revealed itself to the consumer. Once the company did expose itself, it then asked those customers to visit a Goodyear store. They followed up with more questions. “What do you like? What don’t you like?”

Thomas says the lessons learned in those interviews, as well as its other research, drove every detail in its newest store. Consumers said the bright blue and gold walls looked too harsh, and “a little too ‘90s.” Goodyear isn’t abandoning its color scheme, but it’s using those colors as accents with other more muted tones overall. Instead of blue walls, there are blue chairs.

People also asked for transparency. The 10 bays are separated from the show room by a glass wall. “Anywhere you stand in our shop you can see what’s happening with your car. You can see what’s happening with the team member that’s working on your car,” Thomas says. “We’re calling this our open kitchen concept.”

Inside the show room, the sales counter lines the glass wall, but the sales team and consumers won’t meet face to face. They’ll stand shoulder to shoulder, and both will have equal access and visibility of the computer as the Goodyear salesperson searches for tire options or enters needed repairs. “We’ve engineered this so our team cannot get behind the computer,” Thomas says. Consumers expressed doubt about the prices they were quoted, and “a lot of folks would tell us they’re gearing up for battle” when they enter a repair shop or tire shop. Goodyear is focusing heavily on “trust and transparency.”

Team members will greet the consumer within seconds of them walking in the door. By the time the consumer is standing at the counter, his or her vehicle will be through its initial inspection. Goodyear is testing Hunter Engineering Co.’s Quick Check machine at this location. In about a minute a technician can evaluate the vehicle’s alignment, tread depth of the tires and battery life. That report is sent electronically to an iPad inside the store which shows the consumer the results. The store also can print that report to send home with the consumer.

No matter what service is needed, Goodyear says its team will check in with the consumer in 20 minutes to give them a status report. Those updates will continue in 20-minute increments as long as the customer remains in the store until the job is done.

The Summit Mall store also is dedicating two bays to quick service.

Even though customers at this particular store are more included to drop off their vehicles and then cruise the mall during their wait, Goodyear is focusing on how to make the wait as pleasant as possible. There’s a countertop with bar stools for those who want to plug in a laptop and work while they wait. It’s slightly separated from the more comfortable chairs that surround the flat-screen television. There’s a separate waiting area for children, but it’s open and within eyesight of the other space. The store will stock phone chargers and even iPads to lend to customers while they wait. Bottled water and a single-serve coffee machine are available, too.

Goodyear wouldn’t reveal how much it’s spent to create its newest store, and Thomas says the company doesn’t plan to remodel all 600 of its store to look exactly like this one.

“We think there are things in here we can roll out. It’s cool. It’s nicer than our typical stores. We’re not going to do this in every store across the country, but we can have everyone greet the customer within 10 seconds. They can talk to the consumer within 20 minutes of when they get in,” Thomas says. “We’re really focused on the consumer experience more than the physical thing.”

The one exception is in the color scheme. Chris Campbell, director of the customer experience for Goodyear retail stores says, “Some of the muted tones are in our newer stores opening.” And about half of the company’s existing stores have been repainted as well.

How will the company know if its new model is working? Campbell says, “We are testing against baseline stores, and also doing a lot of direct customer intercepts here in the store.” Customers will be given a survey to complete once their transaction is done. Goodyear also is conducting focus groups in the next couple of weeks.

Campbell says, “What is most resonating with them? Where does it add value for them and for our business? Then we’ll be at a decision point whether to deploy it throughout the chain.”