Discovering clues on the map to buried treasure

June 14, 2013

For centuries, men have combed the planet in search of fabled riches. Almost 600 years ago, European expeditions began seeking El Dorado, the legendary “Lost City of Gold.” Many expeditions followed for centuries, relying on past explorer’s maps as well as direction from local guides and grand tales from other adventurers. Eventually the expeditions stopped, but the tales of hidden treasure continued in classic books like Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” and more recently in the movie franchise, “National Treasure.” These stories all glorified the pursuit, navigating the secret map and the complex web of clues as the path to fortune.

El Dorado, the books and movies all have one other thing in common — fiction. In the real world treasure doesn’t have a map, but it exists. Clues are out there and you will definitely have to dig.

Like so many things in life, the extra effort makes a big difference. Most professional athletes are physically gifted, but the most successful are often the hardest workers, are students of the game and are willing to do what the others are too lazy or too complacent to do. The best local restaurants go out of their way to use fresh ingredients, create enticing menus and offer world-class service to develop thrilled, repeat customers who will tell their friends. That’s how they compete with bigger restaurants with bigger advertising budgets.

Independent tire dealers would be wise to aspire to both examples, to keep pace or forge ahead of the competition.

One way to go for the gold is to know your customer better. Knowing your customer is the launching pad for the success of your business and should be the focus of all the product, pricing and promotion decisions you make. How do you know the perfect gift for your wife’s birthday? Hopefully, from a deep personal knowledge you possess about her preferences from the glorious years you’ve spent together. Maybe that’s not the best example. How do you know the perfect driver to get yourself for Father’s Day? You have researched and tested every possible combination of club head, shaft flex, loft and grip until you have narrowed down the almost infinite possibilities to one perfect club. If you approach learning about your customer like the new driver, you will be making the extra effort that makes a big difference, and taking an important step in uncovering that buried treasure.

Focused consumer research

Consumer research and behavior studies are great resources to learn about your current and potential customers. At one time, many believed that demographics were the key to knowing your customer, and to sending them the most effective marketing message. Statistics of income, age, marital status, etc., are a good starting point, but are not the most focused indicators in a diversifying population.

Many now believe that psychographics, or grouping people by their attitude and lifestyle, is a more accurate way to view the population for marketing purposes. Others believe that studying a person’s collective buying behavior is the best way to segment for reaching future customers. If you believe the latter example, then it isn’t a big step to look to vehicle purchases as one of the most telling buying behaviors as it pertains to the tire business.

Each of the sections below will introduce you to sources for this valuable auto industry information and approaches to using the information to your advantage.


AutoPacific –

As the name implies, AutoPacific focuses on automotive research, and has a number of different studies that can help you better understand consumers.  From the AutoPacific website:

New Vehicle Satisfaction Study — AutoPacific’s annual, comprehensive survey of the new vehicle buyer.

• Vehicle attribute importance and satisfaction.

• Vehicle use/applications.

• Shopping process.

• Personal activities and technology.

• Future brand and vehicle type consideration.

• Desired changes to current vehicle.

• Full psychographic battery.

• Designing your next vehicle (over 100 features surveyed).

Understanding consumers’ motivations for purchasing a vehicle can tell you much about what they want in a tire. If you know, for instance, that Dodge Ram owners rate ride comfort much higher than Ford F-150 owners, you have a valuable insight about how to approach that customer.

Ride comfort, power, handling, fun to drive, reliability, etc., are all characteristics people use to describe what they like about their vehicles.

It isn’t a big leap to translate these characteristics into the features and benefits they might like in a tire.

Also from the AutoPacific website:

Replacement Tire Buyer Dynamics and Satisfaction Study — AutoPacific’s survey of replacement tire buyers that focuses on brand awareness, image, satisfaction and buyer demographics.


• Replacement tire brand.

• Vehicle make/model/mileage.

• Brand awareness/familiarity/perception.

• Shopping process.

• Dealership/store experience.

• Attribute importance/satisfaction.

• Replacement tire problems.

• Previous tires/future brand consideration.

• Demographics/psychographics/buyer interests.

It doesn’t take much imagination to see how this study can help a tire dealer. Learning consumers’ perceptions of brands, their shopping processes, their shopping experiences and future brand considerations can inform a wealth of future decisions that will be key to moving your business forward.

Other studies of particular interest from AutoPacific include the Replacement Tire Study and Replacement Tire Retailer Study. All merit further investigation and could reveal powerful insights.


Polk –

R.L. Polk & Co. is a well-recognized name in the automotive industry and has been providing high quality data for over 140 years. One of their core services is the U.S. Vehicle Registration Data that I touched on in an earlier article. The most direct benefit of the Polk data is access to the population of vehicles in your market for inventory planning, but there is a secondary benefit as well. Keeping theme with taking the extra step, once you know what your potential customers drive, it opens the door to a wealth of information. Vehicle owner forums and blogs offer you a direct view of their mostly unfiltered opinions on their vehicles. Tire discussions are often included.

Polk’s website also offers a “knowledge” section with access to blogs, case studies and reports that can open your eyes to consumer trends in the auto industry.

Focus groups

If you want to zone in on consumer preferences in your area, focus groups are a great way to get first-hand information. You can decide the goals of the study and work with the focus group company to word the questions appropriately for your goals. Whether you want to know why they chose a retailer, a particular brand, a particular tread or all three, a professional moderator knows how to get the most useful information out of the group once the members get talking. It is fascinating to sit behind the glass and listen to consumer insights. You will have to resist the temptation to dismiss negative or uninformed comments. Trying to better understand their motivation to purchase, and the reasons behind their ultimate tire choice is the goal here, not to critique.

A less formal way to get direct feedback is an open house. You can invite a measured group of recent customers in as thanks for their business, feed them, offer some educational content and talk to them about their experiences buying tires and service in your store(s). Because many people are uncomfortable voicing negative comments directly, let them know in the invitation that there will be an anonymous suggestion box present. You want that negative feedback, as it represents the best opportunity to improve your customer experience.

Free stuff

While all of the options above offer potentially great information for understanding customers, they all represent a substantial cost. How substantial depends on your business, but a cost in time and money just the same. While it is wise to invest both in your business, sometimes the money needs to be spent on equipment or employees instead of information. Sure, the free stuff isn’t as structured or telling as the pricier options above, but here are some other options.

J.D. Power and Associates —

J.D. Power is famous for automotive customer satisfaction and quality awards, but each year it publishes an Original Equipment Tire Customer Satisfaction Study that you can download from its website.

While the report does not detail actual customer comments, it does rate tire brands for multiple segments of cars and trucks over a series of criteria including: ride, traction, wearability, etc.

National tire retailers

The tire reviews on national retailer websites can be very revealing. The Tire Rack displays a customer’s location as well, allowing customers to relate their regular driving conditions and driving styles.

There is also a comments section for more detailed opinions about the product. Discount Tire displays customer ratings for various characteristics like wet traction and comfort, as well as a section for pros and cons and an open section for other comments. Walmart offers a star rating system, the ability to recommend a product and a comments section. Pep Boys also offers a star rating system, a way to filter on gender, level of auto repair expertise and age.

These websites (and others) offer great insights into a purchase decision, satisfaction with that purchase and various traits of the buyer. It’s a long haul to go through all of the information that is available, and you’ll have to approach some of it carefully.

The customer who rates a tire poorly because “they were so out of round that they made my groceries fly out of the bag” might not offer any usable insights. But many others provide well thought out and fair reviews based on their experiences.


Social media

Most tire manufacturers and many retailers have a presence on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. People are alarmingly transparent on these websites. There is a lot of noise to sort through, but you can get some frank commentary on products, retailers and the purchase experience. While not exclusively so, social media can help you understand a younger customer and give you a glimpse into what will be important for your business in the years to come.


While this might be classified in the “duh” category, a Google search of “tire purchase behavior” provided 172,000 records in less than a quarter of a second, including a link to a study titled “2012 Automotive Tires Path to Purchase” that looked at the online and in-store buying behavior of over 1,300 recent tire purchasers.

Also included in that search are academic articles on consumer behavior in general. Search “tire buyer behavior” and you are treated to 39 million results in less than a quarter of a second, including a link to another study titled “2010 Automotive Aftermarket Study” that includes great information on consumer purchases of tires, accessories, parts and service.

Modern Tire Dealer

Since you are reading this you already know the value of Modern Tire Dealer. If you are reading this magazine in it’s entirety every issue, that’s a great start.

All of us are guilty of randomly flipping (or surfing) through at times, but each issue may contain research, statistics, surveys or articles that apply to your business and your customers directly.

Spending the time to take it all in will pay off.

You are now armed with enough information to start your own expedition. It can be intimidating looking at all of the directions you can take, but unlike the expeditions from centuries ago, you will not have to risk loss of men and ships to the untold dangers in a strange land. You will have a much better map, one that you have plotted for yourself.

And whether you choose to buy your data, engage customers directly or take a virtual expedition on the World Wide Web, you will have taken that all-important extra step to collect those nuggets of information that will help you know your customers better and build loyalty that could fill your coffers for years to come. What could be more golden than that?    ■

Robert Abram has worked in the tire industry since 1992, most notably with Dealer Tire LLC and Yokohama Tire Corp. He is B2B product manager for Tire Intelligence LLC.

For more from Bob Abram, see: The secrets of car dealers success