"The customer is always right.” It’s an axiom we all have heard for a long time.
For Alpio Barbara, owner of Redwood General Tire in Redwood City, Calif., that’s the only way to do business — especially when it comes to auto repair, where customers can do a great deal of research online before ever setting foot in a tire store.
“If you go on the internet, you can read everything we are going to do for a car, from A to Z,” says Barbara, who was the recipient of MTD’s Tire Dealer of the Year Award in 2016. “From taking the wheel off to putting the wheel back on, they know exactly what we are going to do.”
To Barbara, who has been in business since 1969, selling tires and suspension work go hand-in-hand.
“You can’t put $1,000 worth of tires on a car and not make sure the customer’s suspension is right,” he says.
“The customer knows what a control arm is nowadays on some of these cars — not like it was before, where we would say, ‘We are going to replace your ball joints.’
“They would say, ‘Ok, fine — whatever you’re talking about.’
“It was a different time.”
One technique he recommends is talking with customers about suspension work when they come in for other services, such as oil changes.
In conversation, Barbara says “stay in your own lane” a lot.
He says what he means by that is doing the work you know well and researching the work you don’t until you completely understand it.
“You’ve got to stay in your own lane,” he notes.
“I don’t care if it’s a simple tire. Some of the customers we have know more about the product than we do.
“They have researched it and they know exactly what they want. You just have to stay in your own lane.”
This applies to tire dealerships that want to get into suspension work.
“It isn’t just jacking (a car) up and moving on. There are a lot of little nuances.”
Always listen to the customer, Barbara advises. “The same thing (applies) with suspensions,” he says. “If (a customer) wants a certain brand, just do what he wants.
“He has talked to his buddies and he has talked to everyone about that brand.
“As a rule, try to stay with what the customer wants.”
Ahead of the Game: Sell Suspension Work Proactively
Sell suspension work proactively, rather than reactively, says Jeffry Gardner, marketing vice president, GB Auto Service Inc.
“It’s not like your suspension is great up until 49,999 miles and then the next mile, all of a sudden, it’s no good anymore. It is a gradual decrease.
“You don’t realize the suspension is doing poorly until you get it replaced and have brand new components there.”
Vehicle inspections present a great opportunity to point out needed suspension work, according to Gardner.
“Any time you touch a vehicle, whether you are doing tire work or an oil change, that is part of our standard safety inspection,” he says.