The Tire Industry Association's (TIA) Successful Tire Dealers panel at this year's SEMA Show featured representatives from two past MTD Tire Dealer of the Year honorees.
This year’s panelists included Jeremy Benton, vice president of commercial division and manufacturing, and Frankie Underwood, director of sales, both from Whiteville, N.C.-based Black’s Tire Service Inc. They were joined by Joe Dunlap, who leads the retail efforts at Batesville, Miss.-based Dunlap & Kyle Co. Inc.
The panel focused on what makes the two dealerships successful and when asked, the panelists' responses were similar – the right people, digital marketing and community support.
Importance of people
“We take care of our employees and in turn, they take care of our customers,” said Underwood.
Benton and Underwood said hiring people you can trust helps your business overall.
Benton noted that the first employee his father hired is coming up on his 45th anniversary at Black’s Tire.
“You can’t operate without good people,” said Dunlap.
Both companies have enacted successful employee recruitment and retention strategies.
“We’ve created an apprenticeship (program) and we work with technical colleges in the area to try and bring awareness to more young people about the automotive and tire industry,” said Benton.
Benton added that Black's Tire encourages its employees to bring their family and friends into the dealerships as customers and potential employees.
“We have business cards we pass out at other businesses, where it says, ‘Excuse our candor, but you impressed me with how you interact with customers. Black’s Tire is always looking for more people like you – feel free to reach out if you would be interested,” said Underwood.
Black’s Tire also uses an app called Workable Software, which provides an applicant tracking system and recruitment software to support and manage the hiring process. It interacts with LinkedIn, as well.
“We try to keep people by understanding them,” said Dunlap.
“You can’t operate without good people, so you need to accommodate your employees because that’s who your business is.”
Dunlap said that giving back to employees is important at Dunlap & Kyle. At the end of every year, half of the company's retail store profits are given back to the employees as a bonus.
“And when we have some stores that struggle or some years we struggle and we don’t make a ton of profit, we cheat and give all the profit to our employees, instead of keeping it for ourselves,” he added.
Marketing & social media
“I think Black’s is on every social media platform out there,” said Underwood.
This is a new way Black’s Tire is marketing its dealership. “We want to be informed and we want others to be informed about us.”
Underwood said Black’s Tire has strayed away from print advertising, but still does some radio advertising.
“We have a dedicated person to our social media marketing pages."
Dunlap said Dunlap & Kyle doesn’t do much marketing anymore, but agrees that every tire dealership needs to have a presence on social media –for marketing, information or just brand recognition purposes.
Both dealerships said that Google reviews are a great chance to do marketing - even negative Google reviews.
Both Underwood and Dunlap agreed that negative reviews need to be taken care of “before the sun goes down.”
“You don’t want to give people a chance to jump and pile onto that negative review,” said Underwood.
Underwood suggested calling the customer who wrote the negative review to see what went wrong and to try to find a solution that appeases both parties.
“After we get the issue resolved, we always ask them to take the review down or we make a point to reply back to their negative review, letting other customers know that the issue has been taken care of and we didn’t just ignore it,” he continued.
Tire sales vs. auto services
When talking about the differences between tire sales and auto service as it relates to making money, Dunlap says it does not matter.
“It doesn’t matter how much money you make. It matters how much money you save."
He pointed to all the different tire buying options consumers have available to them.
“You don’t even have to leave your couch!” exclaimed Dunlap.
“You can order tires online for a reasonable price and as the world becomes more ‘self-service,' those online tire buying platforms are becoming more popular.”
Underwood said that both sides, tire sales and automotive services, have gotten “extremely technical.”
“With tires, there is the proliferation of SKUs and so many different tire sizes and the most popular sizes just keep getting bigger and bigger,” said Underwood.
He described tire technicians as doctors. Everyone expects techs to know how to diagnose every vehicle.
“But doctors only have two models – male and female. Tire techs have thousands, because each vehicle model is different.”
Underwood continued by saying having resources like TIA is extremely helpful for Black’s Tire.
“Become a member of TIA and get educated, get connected with others in the industry and it will help you in the long run."