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Being Prepared

Having a technician inspect the vehicle prior to a summer road trip benefits both the customer and tire shop. Photo: Huw Evans

Preventative maintenance is essential for any successful summer road trip.

In a matter of months, COVID-19 turned the entire world upside down. In Canada, the provincial government lockdowns designed to contain the spread of the disease resulted in many people being stuck at home and also rethinking travel plans.

While the summer season traditionally sees many people catching a flight to destinations overseas, many consumers are wary about boarding an aircraft and the quarantine consequences resulting from it. Not surprisingly, many have chosen to rethink summer holiday plans—with a huge surge of interest in jumping in the car and going on a road trip. Gas is cheaper and the personal vehicle has gained a newfound sense of importance due to its ability to protect occupants from the outside world.

Great opportunity

For tire shops and service centres, this presents a great opportunity to not only serve more customers than in the past, but also build and strengthen relationships with them, leading to greater long-term retention and business opportunities.

One way in which tire shops can help ensure a customer’s summer road trip goes off without a hitch is via preventative maintenance strategies. OK Tire recently released some guidelines to help motorists ensure their summer road trip is successful and uneventful.

To help gain an understanding of how such a strategy can benefit both consumers and tire shop owners/operators, we decided to interview both corporate members and individual store operators to get their perspective.

According to Jaclyn Logan, Director of Marketing for OK Tire Stores, there are multiple ways in which tire shops can connect with their customers. Today’s technology and communication portals allow for email and text follow ups regarding scheduled vehicle maintenance, as well as educational posts on Facebook or Instagram. Seasonal promotions and special packages can also be a good way to entice customers and serve as a platform to further educate them via in-store digital signage, or (in this brave new world) digital or virtual education tools that include a basic maintenance checklist before hitting the open road.

“We believe that an educated customer is the best customer,” says Logan. “For a full-circle touchpoint, utilising our newsletter tool is convenient to give tips and inform our subscribers.

Critical component

From a store standpoint, owners/managers’ knowledge of their customer base is a critical component of long-term success. Getting to know each customer, the type of vehicle they drive, how they drive it and its maintenance requirements are essential. Being proactive when it comes to maintenance not only fosters trust between the shop and customer, it also reduces the risk of friction and the customer facing significant repair bills due to neglected maintenance.

“We strive to offer peace of mind. Customers know we are taking care of their vehicle, so it’s one less thing they need to think about,” says Bill Gray, Owner of OK Tire Halifax and OK Tire Kempt Road in Nova Scotia.

Gray says he finds that his clientele increasingly like to communicate via text when it comes to their vehicle service needs. “It’s not intrusive and it’s short and sweet,” he says. “We’ve been using this approach for some time with a great deal of success.”

RV sales spike

Besides many people choosing to pile in the car for a summer road trip, sales of recreational vehicles have been skyrocketing as many consumers rediscover the joys of not only travel by road but also camping. Retailers such as RV Canada, Heidi’s RV Superstore and Sicard RV, as well as countless others have seen brisk business in sales of both campers and trailers. Even those families who might already have access to an RV are making more use of it than they normally would, while private sales of used RVs have also seen an uptick.

And because RVs and trailers tend to sit for extended periods in storage, ensuring maintenance is up to par is absolutely critical, particularly this year.

Certified inspection  

Leroy Burkhard, Commercial and OTR Tire Sales, for OK Tire in Elmira, Ont., notes that RV owners should schedule an appointment with their local service centre to have a certified technician perform an inspection on the vehicle before hitting the road. “It really is the best thing to do in order to avoid any unwanted surprises down the road.”

This includes checking the condition and wear of the tires, brakes, belts and hoses, along with the condition of filters and fluids. Inspecting the A/C system should also be a priority as many want to ensure their road trip is as comfortable as possible. If anything looks like it needs replacing, this represents the opportune time.

Additionally, beyond getting a certified technician to look the vehicle over, Burkhard says that shops should work with RV owners to ensure they always do their own basic inspections before hitting the road, even if it is from one campsite to the next or back home.

  • Always do a circle check on your RV before heading out to include lights (headlights, brake lights, turn signals and hazard lights), tires, hitch components and brakes.
  • Check for any damage to the RV such as cracked or broken windows or damage to the body.
  • Make sure all cargo is stored securely to avoid load shifts and to prevent losing anything while on the move and ensure you have not overloaded your RV.

Additionally, he says that tires should be a particular focal point, since they are the only part of the vehicle that’s directly connected to the road surface and wear out both from usage and time. Owners should look for any signs of excessive wear on the tread or edge of the tire, cracking on the sidewalls or between the treads or foreign objects in the tire such as nails. Also, when it comes to tire pressures—regular checks to ensure the tires are set at the correct pressure will help reduce the risk of handling and ride problems, as well as excessive tire wear and the potential for blowouts (often caused by under-inflated tires).

“Low air pressure can cause an RV to sway more than normal which can lead to loss of control of the tow vehicle or motorhome and could cause a rollover or other accident,” says Burkhard. Additionally, he notes that under-inflation can cause the tire to generate excessive heat, leading to blowouts which can cause accidents and damage to the vehicle. Furthermore, under-inflated tires can crack at the flex point, compromising their integrity.

Customer and shop benefits

When it comes to getting ready for the summer road trip, scheduling appointments benefit both the shop and the customer. “Nobody wants to lose time for an appointment on departure day,” says Bill Gray, who notes that his shop’s new website allows customers to directly book different services even after hours. “This can be very practical, as vacation planning is often done then,” says Gray.

Additionally, digital inspection tools allow customers to view the condition of their vehicle during their most recent service visit and what maintenance was recommended by the time of their next appointment.

Also, should something happen while out on the open road, Gray says that OK Tire’s 12 month/20,000 km warranty ensures that help is just a phone call away, adding considerable piece of mind.

How the COVID-19 pandemic will ultimately play out at this point is anybody’s guess. That being said, even if your holiday time is now focused on the open road instead of a land far, far away, both tire shop staff and their customers agree that the important aspect is to have fun, stay safe and create memories that last a life time, not suffer the fate of on-road mishaps or costly repairs.

Categories : Editorial, Tires
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