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ITEC speaker: Build friendships with your customers, and you've got customers for life

By Vera Linsalata

CLEVELAND — Many salespeople tell Craig Knarich they have difficulty getting people who call for tire quotes to come into their stores.

Mr. Knarich, owner of Pit Crew Tire Service Inc. in Palm Harbor, Fla., said he believes the answer to winning over customers is demonstrating honesty and trust.

“Do you want the sale today or do you want a customer for life?” Mr. Knarich asked attendees during his Sept. 21 ITEC presentation, “Building a Friendship/Relationship With Your Customer.”

As owner of Pit Crew Tire, a mobile tire “store” that he operates out of a panel truck, Mr. Knarich said he spends nothing on marketing but relies on word of mouth and some online ads. He's never met half of his customers, yet they all know his name. Why? Because he relies on honesty as his marketing tool.

Noting that his tire sales are up 10 percent this year, Mr. Knarich said, “The No. 1 stronghold in relationship marketing is communication skills.”

Dealers and salespeople should treat customers the way customers want to be treated, he said. For example, Mr. Knarich said he doesn't hesitate to respectfully tell a customer he or she is wrong about a tire fitment because he doesn't want that customer coming back and blaming him for something that went wrong with the car.

“I've unsold more tires and made four times the amount of money by (customers) coming back to me for my honesty,” he told attendees.

As another example, Mr. Knarich said that if his customers are inquiring about a tire that was reviewed recently by Consumer Reports, he encourages them to go look at the magazine and see that it published the same information on the tire that he's telling them. Those types of conversations, he said, show customers that he's not a typical tire salesman.

Although there's “no school to tell us how to make tire sales,” Mr. Knarich told dealers they have the advantage of being viewed by customers as experts. Sixty percent of customers, he said, will buy the tires that a dealer recommends.

In his own experience, he said he shares with customers the pros and cons of tires he's driven on and talks up the importance of regular rotations to make the tires last longer.

When it comes to selling tires to women vs. men, Mr. Knarich advised attendees to recognize gender differences and adjust their sales tactics accordingly. Women, he said, are not dollar shoppers but bargain shoppers who value service, and they will buy a $600 pair of Prada shoes for $200 because they perceive they're getting a good deal.

Women don't mind explanations of why a certain tire is better than another or how to maintain tires properly, but if a salesperson is perceived as patronizing, women will never come back to the dealership, he warned.

“Tread lightly when you talk dollar amounts with a guy so you don't insult his intelligence,” Mr. Knarich advised. “Women like to have things explained, but don't talk down to them.”

During his presentation, Mr. Knarich intentionally went off topic and began asking members of his audience what they did, where they worked and why they were attending his seminar. Then he brought the discussion back to the topic of communication with customers.

“If you can't communicate with people around you, in everyday settings,'re never going to understand what building a relationship is about,” he said, noting the importance of making people feel comfortable.

To emphasize his point further, Mr. Knarich said he believes tire sales generally are going to become harder to earn, yet he has customers who are willing to wait two weeks to buy tires from him—all because of the relationships he's developed with them.

Mr. Knarich began in the tire business in 1981 working for Don Olson Firestone Inc. He said that on a whim, he gathered his pickup truck and some tire equipment and started visiting customers. From that experience, he saw a need for a mobile tire service and founded Pit Crew Tire in 1992.

In addition to being a tire dealer, Mr. Knarich also is a firefighter with Pasco County Fire Rescue. He said his schedule of 24 hours on, 48 hours off allows him to run his mobile tire business on his off days.





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