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Dealer Service

The New Oil Change?

Oil is going to go away at some point. Tires need to become the new oil change.

Alex Smith is the product manager, inspection for Hunter Engineering Co.

Selling Tires Is About More Than Selling Tires

Automotive dealers sell many more tires than they used to; maybe up to 10% of the market.

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Good news to be sure, but it also means 90% of customers are still buying elsewhere.

Unfortunately, dealerships are not seen as a go-to place for tires. Be that as it may, no dealer is required to simply accept this stereotype. Do you “sell tires,” or are tires a core part of your business you can use to open the door to everything else?

Improving customer retention through tire sales isn’t complicated, but it does require effort and commitment. Here are a few considerations to help shape your focus.

The Given

Everything starts with inspection. Every single vehicle, every single day. Put the law of averages to work, because if you look, you will find. The resulting documentation is your point of departure for talking tires with your customers.

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The Obvious and Not-So-Obvious

For dealers, tires are the number-one defection point to the aftermarket. One reason is because service advisors, among other things, take the time to educate customers on tires in general and safety in particular.

Safety is the most obvious consideration when buying tires, but there’s a way of illustrating it that changes the perspective. It’s this: Brakes do not stop the car. Brakes stop the wheels. What stops the car is friction — literally rubber hitting the road. It grips, until it doesn’t. 

Badly worn tires can add up to 10 car lengths of distance needed to stop. When the road is wet, and there’s not enough tread for the water to go into, that lack of grip can be the difference between stopping behind the trash truck or being stopped by the trash truck.

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This is well known in the automotive world, but not among consumers. It’s a powerful, easy-to-grasp concept that will make customers more receptive to learning why 6/32nds, where tread wear becomes serious, is an important number.

The New Oil Change

Selling tires is good, but what you’re actually after is retention. 

Today, customers come into the shop less and less often — maybe every six months? — and when EVs come into play, it may be less than that. Dealers will need to work extra hard to keep in contact with their customers.

No dealers are getting rich on oil changes. But oil changes bring customers in. Oil is going to go away at some point. Tires need to become the new oil change.

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Once customers are in the shop, the key is getting the tires off the car so you can have a look at what else may be going on; for example, suspension or especially brakes. Drivers won’t know when their brakes are fading, and certainly few are inspecting their brakes themselves. A simple tire rotation, leading to these looks, can be a great retention opportunity.

When new tires are purchased, be sure to recommend an alignment inspection. This may not make immediate sense to the customer, but an alignment is essentially insurance against premature tire wear. Having just spent a healthy sum on new tires, the customer needs to know all the wheels will be going in the same direction, and why.

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Even if an alignment isn’t needed, the transparency is a great trust-builder for a future relationship.

Need, But Not Yet

Often, an inspection will show tread in the in-between area. New tires aren’t needed today, but they will be before the next time they come in, six months from now. But will they? Or will they just stop at the most convenient place in month five?

Here’s an example of some creative thinking shown by some forward-thinking dealerships, taking advantage of their local circumstances. It’s October in a colder climate, and the existing tires are more summer-oriented. Selling a set of affordable winter tires, instead of a new $1,500 set not entirely needed yet, extends the life of both sets and guarantees a return when the weather turns warm again. The dealer gains retention and a tire sale it may have lost; the customer saves money and gets full value.

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What sort of creative tactics can you devise for your locality?

Tires themselves may be a low-margin item, but they’re still hugely important on the service trail. Inspections lead to new tire sales, new tires lead to alignments and wheel services, wheel services lead to other work, and all the way back again. Wherever your customer enters the loop, be prepared to provide them the tires that will start them rolling along the complete service cycle. Because where people get their tires, they usually get everything.

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