What is your truth about selling tires?
By: Peter Rudloff
Some truths are true or untrue depending on one’s perspective. Up until about 500AD it was a popular notion among people of science that if someone took a boat out too far into the sea it would literally fall off the edge of the world. Ask anyone from before then and they would say with absolute certainty that the Earth was flat. Long after science established that the earth was actually round Christopher Columbus had his famous voyage to put the debate to bed, once and for all. While we know today this was never true it was, in fact, the truth for any person of science back in 400AD. Throughout history and even in modern day, there have been and will be certain scientific truths that turn out to be untrue.
Pack 50 shop owners into a room and just say the word “tires”. Then carefully watch their reactions. Some shop owners will face palm and groan while others will get giddy with excitement. In the automotive trade, tires have a reputation for being either a wonderful profit center or a loss leading cost of doing business. For some shops, tires account for the most important annual revenue while others either chose to not offer tire services or attempt to do as minimal as possible.
Top management guru Bill Haas of Haas Performance Consulting believes: “Customers are too hard to come by today and easily influenced to try a competitor. Make your store their one stop shop for all their automotive service and repair needs. Either invest in the equipment and training to offer tire sales or sell tires and arrange to have the tire work performed -as a sublet repair elsewhere-. You already know the customer prefers to do business with your store. Why would you allow them to go elsewhere?” This is the fundamental reason I started selling tires. What I now know, but didn’t then, is there is a way to sell tires without going broke.
Early on as a shop owner, I completely hated tires. They were inconvenient to price out, difficult to acquire and there are so many sizes it did not make sense to stock a single size so we never had the size needed in stock. On top of that, while our equipment worked well, I was never fully satisfied with the results after balancing tires with it for my own personal car. If it could not make my tires perfect it stands to reason my customer tires were less than perfect too. We did not receive a lot of complaints, but some customers noticed a slight shake at 55MPH. When I say slight I do mean slight, nonetheless it was there. I remember bitterly eating a few sets of tires in order to keep clients happy.
To add insult to injury, I believed that tires must be sold competitively with the big national tire outfits. After the tire was paid for, the employee paid, valve stem and weights accounted for and tires properly disposed of, I was probably netting $5-7 a tire, and for that princely sum I received the honor of getting to stand behind the tire if the customer didn’t like how they rode on the highway. It became such a source of irritation for me that my employees stopped using the word tire. This was my truth.
The insanity continued for years until I had an epiphany. I realized that I did not have to accept tires being unprofitable, inconvenient and incapable of being balanced.
I started to do some research on tire installation and discovered a concept called Road Force Variation (RFV). The simplest explanation of RFV is to think of the sidewall of a tire as a series of comprisable coil springs. As a loaded tire rotates, it steps from one spring to the next. Because manufacturing techniques do not exist to make a tire 100% uniform, this creates variation in the amount of stiffness or spring. This variation is realized as a vibration that cannot be corrected though balance alone. Difference in RFV will create a tire that rides down the road as an egg shape or maybe a football instead of round. In this instance, no amount of balancing would fully resolve the issue because the tire and wheel assembly are not round. Very few tire machines have the capability to measure RFV and, after doing my research, I concluded the reason we were seeing slight vibrations after some tire installations was due to excessive RFV.
Further research indicated that shops that had the capability to do RFV measurement were charging a premium for the service, but rarely performed it. I concluded the reason was fear of not being competitive. The reason for the higher cost is when correction is required there are additional steps the tire installer must take to get the assembly into a desired RFV range. I also discovered that most vehicle manufacturers either correct RFV or design tires with a known RFV and install them in a way that matches the known rim variation. This is one of the reasons new cars ride so smooth when new! Hmm, a better final product plus more money for doing the job because we are offering a more valuable final product? All the sudden tires started looking a little more attractive.
After careful deliberation, I purchased a machine capable of measuring and recommending the correction of RFV. I raised our tire installation process significantly and we implemented a Road Force only policy in the shop which dictates all tires get RFV checked and corrected before balancing occurs. The manufacturer of our new tire equipment was instrumental in helping us adopt new best practices in our tire installation procedures. The first year we sold over three times as many tires as we had the previous year. This was directly related to the confidence I had in the quality of work we producing and the fact that it was financially viable work for us to install tires perfectly.
Immediately after we changed our tire philosophy, we started getting phone calls from customers a few hours or days after they left with their new tires. Unlike before, these phone calls were 100% praise and happiness with how the car rode since the new tires were installed. The most common thing we would hear is “my car has never driven so smooth” or “it drives like brand new again”. We have had zero tire comebacks since switching and have actually prevented a few potential comebacks by identifying tires that would have likely created a vibration and not installing them.
When choosing equipment that is capable of measuring RFV, the field is surprisingly narrow. There are two philosophies towards how to measure RFV. One utilizes a load roller that applies 1,000-1,400lbs of pressure against the tire tread and using the principals of a dial indicator measures the RFV of the circumference of the squished tire. A separate step is required to get accurate rim measurement data. The machine performs its proprietary calculation, and then displays an alignment of the rim and tire that will create the most round assembly. Once the tire is moved onto the rim, a normal balance procedure is followed.
Another approach utilizes laser measurement technology to measure an unloaded tire assembly’s tread, sidewall and rim together. This type of machine, using proprietary software, predicts how the tire will likely react when loaded. Using this inference, the machine will suggest an alignment of the rim and tire that should make the most round overall assembly.
After researching the types of machines and talking to technicians utilizing both, I opted to go with the load roller type machine. Fundamentally, the decision came down to an understanding of how a dial indicator works and how that related to my understanding of RFV. A load roller simulates the deflection a tire would receive while driving down the road. From a logic standpoint, this is a big deal. It was explained to me that the higher degree of accuracy a laser measurement tool has, combined with the predictive software has made up for the tire needing to be loaded. Because I did not believe this explanation was valid, I bought a load roller type machine and have not looked back.
Our local Hunter Engineering repair person spent hours making sure we understood how to use our new tire equipment properly and he is only just a phone call away to coach us through a scenario we have not seen previously. Support like this really helps boost confidence in a ideology change like we implemented on tires. Knowing we are putting out a premium product, superior to what many shops offer with just a spin balance, has boosted my whole team’s excitement level on tires.
I learned throughout my philosophical conversion that most customers will choose quality over cheap if given the opportunity and a good explanation of the benefits. No longer a four-letter word, tires have become one of our most profitable areas, as well as a source of pride for the staff due to how well we install tires.
Now when someone says “tires”, I no longer face palm. I have fully converted my own personal truth on tires. This truth is better for us; maybe it is worth looking into for your shop?
Originally printed in Auto Inc Magazine, reprinted with permission from rights holder.