About six or seven years ago, Lisa Walters, co-owner and vice president of the three-location, Youngstown, Ohio-based Westside Tire & Service, read an article about hosting car care clinics for female customers on AskPatty.com, a company whose goal is to help women feel more comfortable when buying and repairing vehicles.
Walters took the idea to her brother and Westside Tire co-owner, Rich Rogenski, and they decided to “made it happen,” she says.
Westside Tire & Service hosted its first car clinic for female customers in 2018. The event was a success, bringing in around 10 people.
Since then, Walters says many changes have taken place to improve the clinics.
“Every year, we try to make it better, so we’ve kept what we like and we’ve eliminated what wasn’t relevant.”
For example, Walters says her team likes to get the clinics wrapped up in about 75 minutes. Westside Tire used to stage two-hour-long clinics. Those proved to be too long for participants.
Westside Tire & Service also opened the clinics to men a few years ago.
“When we first started the clinics, we called them ‘car care clinics for women.’ Women, in particular, when they have to visit a shop, it can be a very intimidating experience for them.
“We want them to feel more comfortable and we feel that providing them with that knowledge will empower them.
‘But we had some men come in and joke with us that it was women-only and we realized we needed to make it be non-discriminatory, which is why we call them (simply) car care clinics now.”
Regardless of the participants, Walters says the dealership tries to keep the clinics “informal,” noting that when subject matter becomes too technical, it’s hard for attendees to stay engaged.
A Westside evening
The clinics usually have around 12 to 20 people in attendance and though they are free, Walters says participants do have to sign up for them.
“We ask that they register in advance because we get the clinics catered,” says Walters, who explains that she likes to provide a “comfortable and relaxed” environment by providing food and drinks.
“The evening begins with Rich welcoming everyone and then we (as a team) introduce ourselves. While everyone eats, Rich talks about vehicle safety and we have some informative handouts passed around, like maintenance schedules."
During the clinic, Westside Tire & Service’s team shows participants worn-out parts, including hoses and brake components.
“Rich usually holds up a $20 radiator hose and tells them the price and then a $120 radiator hose and tells them price,” says Walters. “We always get a few ‘oooh’s and aaaah’s’ out of that.
“Everyone’s favorite part of the clinics is when we take the participants to their own vehicles, which we already have in the shop, and have a team member by their side as the participant tries to find things on their vehicle provided by a checklist (that) we gave them.”
Westside Tire & Service supplies rubber gloves and all attendees get a free tire gauge.
Clinic participants learn how to open the hood of their own vehicles, check their oil, where to find the sticker that contains their vehicle’s recommended tire pressure information and more.
“Now they know their tire size, their vehicle identification number and what their air pressure should be.”
Lisa says most customers “are pretty fascinated” that the sticker on their car’s door jamb contains so much information “because they don’t pay attention to that. They can’t believe it.”
Logistics of clinics
“Another thing I think the participants in the clinic really appreciate is that we take the time to answer any and all questions — and we encourage that,” she says.
“We want them to know that no question is a stupid question. Rich always says women ask really good questions.”
At the end of the clinic, when the dealership’s service advisor or one of its technicians is one-on-one with participants, customers can ask specific questions about their vehicles.
“It’s more effective if we give them that one-on-one and if we give them the opportunity to learn about their own vehicles,” she says.
Walters says that each Westside Tire & Service location has approximately seven employees and “everyone has a role to play” during the clinics.
“Since we’ve been doing this for a few years, we have our system down pat,” she continues. “We have so many people willing to help, it takes less time than it used to.”
Westside Tire & Service promotes the clinics at its locations. The company’s store managers and service advisors are “really good at talking with customers.”
The clinics are hosted only at the dealership’s Niles, Ohio, location, which is its biggest store.
Westside Tire & Service’s website also has a tab called “events,” where more information about the clinics can be found. The company does promotion through Facebook and in the past, radio, as well.
“We also hand out flyers to businesses where you typically find a lot of women working, like the bank or the grocery store,” says Walters.
The company holds only one clinic per year, in October, “to align with Fall Car Care Month,” says Walters.
“There was talk of having another clinic in April for National Care Car Month, but we found April to be a busy time for customers.”
‘Very positive feedback’
“We get very positive feedback” about the clinics “and our customers are so appreciative we hold the event,” says Walters, who advises other tire dealers to “not hesitate” in doing something similar.
“Make sure your team is on board. The more help you have, the easier it will be.”
She also recommends partnering with suppliers. “For example, Fisher Auto Parts is our primary parts supplier. They support us and it helps us a lot.”
Walters says the clinics have generated numerous new customers for Westside Tire, but the feedback and appreciation shown by customers is her favorite outcome.
“Community involvement is really important to us and this is one of our favorite ways to give back,” she says.
“We benefit by knowing we have helped (customers) in small ways and their appreciation and their feedback make us realize it is all worth it.
“It always helps to meet people face-to-face and get to talk to them, so they know we have their best interest at heart. And this clinic gives us the opportunity to do so.”