Sales Techniques: Educate, Educate, Educate
The best way to upsell your tire customers is to share your knowledge with them.
The only things that may vary more than driving conditions across the country are Canadian drivers and their tire needs. And when you consider that the average driver only buys tires every several years, there’s plenty of opportunity to educate them about the latest and best possible tires.
But this is no time for high pressure sales tactics, according to Dave Meulensteen, of Meulensteen Tire and Auto Service in Listowel, Ontario. “I don’t want to upsell somebody something they don’t need,” he says. “I begin by asking the customer a lot of questions, to find out whether they’re commuting or just getting groceries. That gives me a feel for what kind of driving they do.”
His shop is in a small town, and Meulensteen says he knows the majority of people who walk through his door. “It’s a trust relationship. If they trust you, you don’t have to pressure them, they’ll take your word for it.”
Not like buying a TV
When customers make an appointment to bring their cars in for a seasonal changeover, that’s when the process begins. “When the phones start ringing, it’s pretty hectic, so we plan the entire appointment during the phone call,” says Meulensteen. “We discuss tires, wheels, TPMS. Once they’ve made their decision, if they’ve bought a wheel package, then we discuss storage and things like that. It’s a step by step process where we try to do everything on the phone.”
He notes wryly that buying tires isn’t like buying a big screen TV. “You don’t get the same sense of joy. But when you buy snow tires, you can feel the difference when you get back out and drive. With all-season tires, if you replace the tire in July, you really can’t tell the difference.”
Many people won’t purchase additional TPMS sensors, since they are expensive. “They also don’t understand what the TPMS sensor does, they associate it with the light that flashes on their dash,” Meulensteen says. Storage is an easier upsell. “People like the idea of not having to deal with dirty and heavy wheels, especially if they have to be put in the backseat of their car, or lugged up a set of stairs.”
Meulensteen estimates about half of his customers ask his opinion about their tire condition. “Maybe about 25 percent will check their own tires,” he says. The majority have both winter tires and all-seasons on dedicated rims. “That’s changed over the past five years. At one time, only a small portion were on rims. But that’s completely flipped.”
Steep hills and potholes
In Montreal, Celso Lauro, Manager of Merson Automotive, says his customers understand how important tires are. “In Montreal, we have quite steep hills,” he says. “We have always had a high rate of winter tire usage, in the 70 to 80 percent range, even before it became mandatory.”
However, customers may not understand the difference between snow and ice tires vs. a high performance winter tire. “We share our knowledge with customers in order for them to make an informed decision, and bring in resources like magazines with facts and statistics about braking distance, traction, and so on,” Lauro says.
It’s a matter of showing the customer the benefit of an upsell. “We always try to find out how the customer will use the tires,” Lauro says. “They may want a less expensive brand, but we explain that the product may not last as long, or give the proper safety.”
About 60 percent of his customers will ask for quotes and information over the phone. He finds many will request summer tires, for non-winter driving. “I explain that a summer tire is a performance tire that goes on specific vehicles, but other vehicles require a four-season,” Lauro says. “Customers are very open to hearing about different brands and types of tires.”
He does brisk business with alignments when tires are being changed, or new ones being purchased. “Our roads are awful in Montreal,” Lauro chuckles. “The potholes this year are particularly bad. So we also encourage balancing, to make sure there’s no vibration. We’ll clean and seal the rims, if they’re starting to develop corrosion.”
Educating the customer
Sofia Volpov, President and CEO of 1010tires.com, faces a slightly different challenge with her customers, since she runs an online retail service as well as bricks and mortar operations. “Customers will do research online, or go from store to store, and acquire knowledge to purchase the tires they need,” she notes.
In Vancouver, where Volpov is based, there is no mandatory requirement for winter tires. But it is mandatory for certain roads in the interior of British Columbia. “We have a certain percentage switching over to winter tires,” she says. Many customers also buy a second set of wheels just for winter driving. “Some vehicles will allow downsizing one or two sizes lower, so that keeps the price down for the winter set.”
To Volpov, it’s a matter of customer education. “When the customer is on the phone, we definitely will answer their questions,” she says. “But if they come in, we can spend more time with them.”
Her specialty is the online 1010tires.com store, where customers don’t necessarily call and ask questions. “Educating the customer online is the best upsell tool that we have,” Volpov notes. “It has to be very subtle, so people don’t feel like they’re being taken ad-vantage of, but merely pointed in a certain direction.”
If a customer purchases an item online, they’re directed to another item in order to complete the purchase. “For example, if they’re changing to winter tires and wheels, then TPMS sensors might also be necessary,” she explains. There’s also an online tire and wheel glossary, as well as a tire size calculator. “The trend is to shop online, buy the tires online, and then go and pick them up at the local store,” Volpov says. “We offer to do the installation, and this becomes our opportunity to do the upsell.
“A new generation of buyers are using the computer more, and buying everything online, including tires and wheels. Our goal is to solicit more installers to participate in internet sales.”