How To Find New Customers: Two Dealers Offer Different Strategies

June 1, 2021

About three years ago, Tom Ceniglis Jr. uprooted his entire marketing plan. No more radio ads. No more billboards.

“We changed over to an almost entirely digital marketing platform, except for some local broadcast TV,” says Ceniglis, the second generation owner of Tom’s Tire Pros, a two-store retail business in Abilene and San Angelo, Texas.

“We wanted to be in the mix when a potential client was in the decision-making phase of their buying process,” says Ceniglis.

“Between 70% and 80% who buy tires research them online first, and typically (they) will research that dealer a little bit.”

Ceniglis says the strategy is paying off. June 2020 was the company’s biggest sales month in its history — until the Tom’s Tire Pros team broke the record again in March 2021.

 “This March was much bigger,” he says. And in the final days of April 2021, tickets were trending 30% to 35% above the previous year’s totals.

Online strategy

Priority one is for consumers to find his stores and website when they’re shopping for tires, says Ceniglis. That means search engine marketing and strategies with Google AdWords are important. But it’s also not a “set-it-once-and-forget-it” plan.

With the help of Katie Maddux, his assigned marketing liaison from American Tire Distributors Inc.’s Tire Pros program, Ceniglis focuses his Google advertising on different kinds of customers and searches. 

Earlier this spring, when consumers had fresh stimulus money and tax refunds were hitting their bank accounts, their spending was on more discretionary items, like lift kits, wheels and accessories.

“As we’re moving into summertime, the average customer is going to be a larger percentage of our business. They just want to take a vacation,” and might need tires or automotive services before they can hit the road.

Tom’s Tire Pros advertises on social media, too, though Ceniglis admits the dealership stopped this for a few months both during and after the 2020 presidential election season when “everyone was trying to control the dialogue” on Facebook and Twitter. 

“We’re back on it now.”

Just like on social media platforms, Tom’s Tire Pros is targeting customers in the markets surrounding his stores via streaming television services. 

Known as “Over the Top” or OTT, Ceniglis says “it’s a more cost-effective means of advertising on television, so we want to be there. We can target an age group, income level and geographic area. We could put it to one household if we wanted to. I know it’s effective.”

The stores also focus on reputation management and request a review from every customer - via a text message - after each sale. Those genuine reviews help pull in prospective customers who are shopping and searching online, says Ceniglis. “All of this stuff works together. That’s what makes it effective.

“We’re a different type of tire dealer. We advertise a lot and it’s helped us continue to grow our business and solidify it. As we go up with our advertising budget, our sales fall right in line.”

In 2020, Ceniglis spent $148,000 on marketing his two stores and depending on the month, he expects to increase that spend by up to 12% in 2021.

Seeing results

All of those digital tools are delivering new customers to Tom’s Tire Pros. The proof is in the tally of new customer invoices. Year-to-date, 41.3% of invoices at the dealership’s Abilene store are from new customers. In San Angelo, the figure is 34.1%

“We really feel like we’ve got it dialed in right now,” says Ceniglis. “I’ve never felt as confident with my marketing dollars being spent. We’re very confident. The numbers are proving it.”

And he believes the focus on digital marketing gave his business a leg up during the pandemic. While other dealers — and businesses of every kind — were trying to pivot and find their way online and on social media last year, Tom’s Tire Pros already had a foundation in place.

“We were kind of lucky. If you’re going to have a digital marketing program, it takes time for it to get in place and be effective. It does not happen overnight.”

He encourages other dealers to “stay the course.

“We had a little soft spot when we got started, but I knew going into it (that’s) it’s such a drastic change. You’ve got to be willing to be committed to it … for two years.”

But Ceniglis doesn’t downplay the power of one customer recommending his store to a friend or neighbor.

“We feel like the most effective means is referral and word of mouth,” he says. “It’s taking good care of our existing clientele, genuinely caring about and taking care of their needs and delivering the exceptional buying experience for them.

“If you’re not taking care of your clientele, you’re not doing it right.”

At Consumer Tire in Chardon and Mentor Ohio, the owners believe in attracting customers by serving their communities and supporting worthy local causes. From left, owners Bruce Kantz, DD Coley and Dave Kantz.

Rewarding customers

Consumer Tire Inc. relies on a mix of digital tools, with a heavy dose of an old standard — community service — to attract customers to its stores in Mentor and Chardon, Ohio. 

DD Coley and her brothers, David Kantz and Bruce Kantz, own and operate the two-store business their father started in 1962.

On the digital side, Coley says the dealership offers a customer rewards program using BayIQ software. The program is featured prominently on the Consumer Tire website and so are the coupons and specials available to members. 

Customers can sign up online and use the initial $5 off coupon on their first visit. With every visit, they accumulate points for future purchases.

“They’re being rewarded for their loyalty,” says Coley, Consumer Tire’s president.

She recently saw those points pay off in a big way for a customer. 

A woman came in for a seasonal tire changeover at the end of winter and was surprised to learn she needed to replace her all-season tires that had been in storage. She wasn’t prepared for that purchase that day, Coley says, but the woman, a mother of eight, asked if she had any rewards points in the bank.

“She had $157 in points accumulated. She was happy as a clam when she left.”

The same software allows Consumer Tire to reach out to customers by sending monthly emails that usually include coupons and specials. In 2020, the tire dealership used those emails “ to share what we were doing for safety and sanitizing.”

Coley says the emails are sent “once a month, so it doesn’t bombard them.”

The software also helps the advisor at the front counter be alert for new customers. And when writing up a ticket for a first-time customer, the customer’s name is highlighted in blue. 

“Blue is new,” and Coley says it’s a signal to every employee, including the technician in the bay, that they’re working with a first-time customer.

Grassroots efforts

In Coley’s mind, digital tools are nice, but do-it-yourself customer programs are worth a try, too.

Bill Pollotta took over as manager of the nine-bay Consumer Tire store in Mentor last July and he’s been putting his feet to the pavement to find more customers, says Coley.

He’s calling it “Reach Out to the Neighborhood” and he’s visiting neighboring businesses and offering their employees discounts on automotive services, going as far to shuttle their cars back and forth for them.

Coley says that’s inspired her company to reach out to its existing fleet customers. 

Consumer Tire is offering discounts to fleet employees who have work done on their personal vehicles.

Coley is also a big believer that hometown philanthropy goes a long way in marketing a local business and attracting new customers.

She’s an active member of the Fraternal Order of Eagles and supports the local chambers of commerce in her communities. Consumer Tire supports as many local projects as possible each year.

“The community service - you can’t put a dollar amount on it,” she says. “ It’s your time and commitment.

“We don’t have a dollar amount for donations. We do things we think are beneficial for our communities.” Among their favorite causes are projects that support veterans and police officers.

Four years ago, Consumer Tire created a non-profit organization to help it perform more local good deeds. Consumer Tire Angel Wings helps those who need vehicle repairs and tires they cannot afford.

The organization is supported by other local service organizations who help conduct fundraisers and then the money is used to cover needed repairs.

“There’s no limit to what we will do,” she says.

About the Author

Joy Kopcha | Managing Editor

After more than a dozen years working as a newspaper reporter in Kansas, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, Joy Kopcha joined Modern Tire Dealer as senior editor in 2014. She has covered murder trials, a prison riot and more city council, county commission, and school board meetings than she cares to remember.

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