Trek the northern territories of the US and Canada during the dead of winter and then have your customers insist a winter wheel and tire setup isn’t necessary. Most shops understand the value. But when it comes time to make the pitch and close the sale, the staff struggles to convince customers that the additional cost up-front is sure to add priceless benefits throughout the life of the product.
For many Canadians, there’s no choice in the matter. A winter wheel and tire setup is required by law. “In some provinces, examples being Québec and British Columbia, winter tires having a snowflake rating (found on the tire sidewall) need be installed,” said Joe Robanske, Outside Sales Manager and wheel and tire specialist at Keystone Automotive.
And in those few areas where winter tires aren’t law? “Let’s put it this way, I currently live in Alberta where we do not have a winter tire law, and I would not consider running one set of tires year-round. Once you see the difference running a winter tire makes in performance, you will never go back. The initial investment is a very small price to pay for the safety and grip these tires provide. We run the Pit Bull PBX A/T Hardcore tires, which are snowflake rated, on our Keystone trucks and they perform beautifully,” he added.
Promotion, Promotion, Promotion
So, what is a US shop to do when its customer base isn’t mandated by the government and instead becomes hung up on price, as opposed to the value? First, recognize this isn’t an easy sell. Expect to invest the time and energy in education. Second, have the right winter mix in stock ready to sell right then and there. Because third, you must merchandise the showroom as a full winter experience.
You get what you give, and customers pick up on subliminal messaging. Upon entering the shop, customers should be greeted by something seasonal at every turn. For example, A&A Auto Stores in Northeastern, Pennsylvania rotates its window clings with special offers on tried-and-true winter items like ice melt, diesel additives, and wiper blades. Make sure there’s a rack of flyers highlighting seasonal products. Get creative with an end cap that neatly showcases some of the winter must-haves. A halogen and LED bulb arrangement places emphasis on the importance of the basics. And at the center of it all, an impressive winter wheel and tire setup that encourages the customers to look and touch the big purchase you want them to make.
If customers see the value you place on winterizing your showroom, they will likely take the sales pitch more seriously.
But First, Education
All-Season/All-Terrain vs Winter
It’s the age old, “But I have a great set of all-season/all-terrain tires. Why should I swing for the added cost?” Trust us, it’s not enough to have a canned reply of all-season/all-terrain tires being inadequate for winter driving in most parts of Canada and the US snow belt. In a world where people question everything, why should a purchase like winter wheels and tires be any different?
Explain that these “tires provide modest traction on snow and ice when they are new, with grip diminishing as the tire tread wears down. The rubber compound of an all-season tire hardens as the temperature drops, providing poorer grip, even on dry surfaces. The compound of a winter tire is more pliable and retains its grip in cold temperatures,” said the Automobile Protection Association (APA).
As for the pokes about cost, Robanske says, “From a consumer standpoint, it really isn’t more expensive to have a dedicated set of winter wheels and tires. You’re not wearing out your summer tires when the winter set is on. The usage after the initial hit is exactly the same. Plus, you now have tires that perform better no matter what season you are in. For this reason, even in areas where laws aren’t in place, having two sets of wheels and tires is becoming a much more popular option.”
Okay, fair point. But what about mud tires or better yet, how about those new all-weather tires? They should suffice year-round, right?
Big mud-terrain tires, regardless of the brand, are usually constructed with a stiffer rubber, yes. Robanske explained that while this helps with the overall longevity of the tire, when the temperature drops, these tires stiffen up so much that the pliability just isn’t there for proper traction on snow or ice. The rubber in dedicated winter tires is made from considerably softer compounds and they don’t harden up until the temperatures are much, much colder. As for those spiffy all-weather tires, think again.
According to the APA, these tires carry the mountain and snowflake logo that identifies them as meeting the snow tire standard. But from what the association has seen, “All-weather tires use a hybrid tread that manages to meet the winter tire traction requirement in snow, combined with the harder compound more typical of a conventional all-season tire. The compromise? Ice traction is not covered by the snow tire standard, an unfortunate omission that the tire industry and governments should correct. On ice, the hard rubber compound of a four-season tire will not equal a dedicated winter tire.”
Robanske’s advice is to remind customers that the best traction on snow is snow itself. “Winter tires are constructed with lines cut into the treads called sipes. In the winter, these sipes grab and fill up with snow, so that the snow on the tires comes in contact with the snow on the road for superior traction. Think about winter boots. If you have a big knobby boot with nothing to hold the snow, it will act almost as a skate when you’re walking or climbing. But if you have a boot that has a bunch of lines running through the sole that can easily pack in with snow, all of a sudden you have this buildup of snow that can easily grip the snow on the ground,” he said.
Educate, Then Pitch
Now, as “Operation Winter Tire Education” is in full force and you clearly have the customer’s attention, gently guide him or her over to the Falken winter tire display that every shop owner will have by the end of this feature. For Category Manager Dan Guyer, one of the biggest draws of this brand is that, in theory, the Wildpeak operates like the term “all season”. Its patented construction with aggressive styling is great for everyday driving but carries a full winter snowflake rating, which means one set of tires is good to go year-round. This is especially appealing to those living in Canadian provinces with strict winter tire regulations.
“The Falken Wildpeak A/T3W has a 55,000 mile and 89,000 km tread life warranty. The security of knowing there’s a set of severe snow condition-rated tires gives installers and consumers confidence they are making the right choice,” said Robanske. Best of all, “There’s no need to swap over to winters with these tires. I personally run them, and I am very impressed. They provide superior winter traction and a tire compound designed to last,” he added.
Now that we’ve given you the recipe for success, don’t you think it’s time to give your Keystone rep a call?