Happenings at Virginia Tire & Auto.

In the News January 1, 2014

Tire Review: Building a Sustainable Brand

Create and maintain a consistent, strong impression to make yours the name to trust
Senior Editor

Virginia Tire & Auto’s complete rebranding process includes a new logo, website, color palette, messaging, uniforms, and tagline – “All Your Car Needs.”

In these days of fierce competition from chains, big boxers, other independent tire dealers and online retailers, having a strong brand is key. But it’s not just about building that brand – maintaining it is equally important.

According to the American Marketing Association, a brand is a “name, term, sign, symbol, or design, or a combination of them, intended to identify the goods and services of one seller… and to differentiate them from those of competition.”

In short, it’s the overall impression your dealership makes on existing and potential customers. But how do you build, strengthen and maintain a topnotch brand?

To get some valuable insight into the branding process, we talked to three successful dealers who all have tackled branding in their own, unique way.

Refocusing a Brand

Virginia Tire & Auto, with 12 locations in the greater Washington, D.C., area of northern Virginia, was already a force to be reckoned with in 2011, when the dealership won Tire Review’s Top Shop Award. Though the company’s service, personnel, innovation and attention to detail were excellent, management realized there wasn’t a strong, consistent brand.

“There was confusion over our identity,” said Vice President Julie Holmes, referring to the fact that not all locations were similar in appearance; most appeared to be branded Goodyear, while others carried the Bridgestone badge. “We could hear our customers and our own employees identifying us as Goodyear. We have other competitors in our market that use Goodyear colors, and people would bring in their coupons to our locations because they were getting us confused. We knew we had a brand identity crisis.”

So the dealership engaged a local agency to lead what would become a two-year process in which every part of the business was re-analyzed and a strong, consistent brand created.

“We had a logo and a name, and we called that our brand. But a real brand isn’t just colors and a logo, it has to go back to who you really are,” Holmes said, explaining the dealership did extensive research – mystery shopping, interviewing employees and talking to customers – and identified four brand pillars: professional, forward thinking, genuine and attentive. “Once we figured out those items, we could translate that into a brand strategy.”

In the next phase, the company developed what the customer experience would be, as well as how that experience would carry over to the company’s website. The result? A new logo, tagline, website, color palette, messaging and new uniforms.

The dealership’s new logo features a handshake and the tagline “All Your Car Needs,” developed as a reminder to customers that Virginia Tire & Auto is a full-service automotive maintenance provider.

The new brand was unveiled at the first location last May, followed by a six-week period during which the company gauged response and truly tested the new identity. After seeing the endeavor was a success, Virginia Tire & Auto began making plans to roll it out for its other 11 retail locations.

“It was a very expensive process, but it’s an investment for the future,” Holmes said. “Having this brand has allowed us a platform to become consistent across all aspects of the business in all of our locations. It was about the evolution of the business.”

The rebranding campaign has resulted in overwhelmingly positive feedback from customers and employees, and a sizeable boost in website traffic. The new brand image also opens doors to additional marketing opportunities.

“Before, it was an issue of not being able to market a conglomerate of 12 stores,” Holmes said. “We’re now able to start doing brand awareness advertising.”

Actions Matching a Name

Yes, branding is more than just a name, but for Phoenix, Ariz.-based Community Tire Pros, the company’s name just happens to encompass the very foundation upon which the brand was built.

When the company – a Top Shop finalist in 2007 and 2010, and the Top Shop winner last year – opened a contest to name the dealership, the winner was a woman who advised, “Put on the sign what you’ve always been – part of the community. Community Tire,” according to Howard Fleischmann Sr., CEO.

“It really has been the perfect name for us, even better than we thought at the time,” he said, explaining that the dealership’s brand is its customer service, local involvement and giving back to the communities in which its six stores are located.

And the dealership does each of those things in ways that set it apart – far apart – from the competition.

From being a champion for equality by supporting the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community to creating the High Mile Club – a customer rewards program designed to help drivers achieve extra high mileage from their vehicles – Community Tire’s outside-the-box approach to customer service strengthens its brand.

“If we haven’t met a customer yet, our brand is what’s going to distinguish us from the others,” Fleischmann said. “Community Tire, of course, is built on a structure of trust and accountability. We taught our people that the focus was to make customers, not sales.”

The dealership offers its customers no-pressure recommendations and prioritizes recommended service work. And with regular communication – updates on customers’ progress earning rewards in the Mile High Club, notes when their car is due for service, and a monthly e-newsletter sent to 10,000 addresses – Community Tire stays relevant. “Now that we’ve established our integrity and built the brand, we stay top of mind through frequent communication,” Fleischmann noted.

From a local involvement standpoint, Community Tire isn’t just a member of the Chamber of Commerce; Fleischmann is extremely active, attending all Chamber events and getting involved in various programs. He also reaches out to new members with a free oil change. “I tell them to come experience us, that we’re a little different. We do that with all of the groups we’re involved in.”

Community Tire is a member of Local First Arizona, a nonprofit organization that aims to strengthen communities by encouraging residents to buy from locally owned businesses. The dealership introduced the Local First flag, which it proudly flies outside its stores, beneath the U.S. and Arizona flags. Inside the dealership’s showrooms, there are inserts and brochures that educate customers on the importance of buying local.

In order to maintain brand consistency, Fleischmann gauges public perception and keeps employees engaged. He personally checks online reviews and customer comments on social media sites three times each week and passes along examples of shining customer service to all employees in a “Celebrate Success” email.

Decades of Trust

For Clark Tire, with 24 locations in North Carolina, branding may partly be a result of 70 years of business success, but the third-generation dealer continues what has always been the brand’s foundation – customer service.

“Our highest and top priority in branding is who we hire,” said owner John Clark. “Our biggest resource is our employees. They represent the company and are the foundation of branding. That is the basis of a customer’s first opinion of the company.”

Clark explained the dealership isn’t selling automotive service or tires – it sells customer service. And by hiring the right people and having frequent training and strong leadership, Clark Tire ensures consistency among all its locations.

Clark Tire is a Goodyear Tire & Service Network location, but has access to and sells other tire brands, as well. As such, Goodyear signage is prevalent at certain locations, but Clark said that doesn’t cause confusion because the Clark Tire brand is always displayed more prominently.

“We project primarily a Clark Tire brand,” he said, adding, “I don’t think you brand yourself by signage. The way you brand is the execution of the services you provide.”

According to Clark, the best marketing is “performing a service well and giving people a positive experience. That then resonates through word of mouth.” He added Clark Tire consistently projects its image – not just through word of mouth, but through social media, its web presence, managing online reviews and direct mail.

“To create your brand, the total experience has to be right, from top to bottom. If someone has a good experience, that’s your brand,” Clark advised. “But if someone has a bad experience, that’s your brand.”

Take a look at your dealership from an outsider’s perspective: Is there a clear, consistent brand identity and message? Is that message being delivered through advertising and interactions with your employees?

If not, a good first step is what each of the dealers above have done – go back to your core mission and reformulate your brand strategy from there.

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