How Discount Tire became a market leader through customer experience
Discount Tire began with a single employee and six tires. The year was 1960, and the first location was inside of an old plumbing supply building in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Founder Bruce Halle waited patiently for customers to arrive. A week later, he made his first sale. Despite starting out with no real business plan, his persistence paid off. Three decades later, Discount Tire opened 200 stores across the U.S. And by September 2018, the company opened its 1,000th store.
Tires, like sugar or eggs, are considered a commodity. Mr. Halle understood that within a commodity market, product differentiation would not get the company very far. He made the decision early on to prioritize the customer experience.
About Discount Tire
In the early days, this largely boiled down to hiring the right employees. And this meant individuals who were equally committed to providing great customer service. The move worked for a number of decades and helped Discount Tire grow to become the largest independent tire and wheel retailer in the world. This was until consumer behaviors began to change.
Around 2013, the company noticed customers conducted much of their research online before ever coming into one of its stores. The two shopping experiences, however, were drastically different.
While the concept of a “blended” shopping experience was just gathering steam, the company placed its bet on it. Discount Tire overhauled a disparate and homegrown technology stack — bringing in technology partners including Adobe Experience Cloud to drive web content management and personalization. It re-oriented the company towards customer experience management (CXM), a strategy that would drive growth. And when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it provided resiliency.
How they did it
Upwards of 80 percent of Discount Tire customers begin their experience with the company online at discounttire.com. On the website, the company needed a way to replicate the first conversation that many of us have with in-store employees. The answer came in the form of a feature called Treadwell™.
Treadwell™ provides transparency, suggesting the best tire for a given situation regardless of cost. This proprietary technology lets website visitors input details about what (and how) they drive, providing s a recommendation for the best tire to suit their needs, based on real-world data. Many are surprised to learn that it is the very same tool store associates use, during conversations that help guide customers to the right tires.
This feature is one component of a broader online experience that also allows visitors to conduct general research, make appointments, complete transactions, and record basic information. It eliminates the time-consuming steps most automotive consumers are familiar with in a retail setting — reviewing options, providing store associates with line-by-line information, and waiting around while the transaction is completed — all of which have now become a thing of the past.
These services help customers save time, while allowing employees to focus on creating an inviting and supportive environment — being there to help with any final questions. This includes Discount Tire’s fleet services business as well, where B2B customers have a dedicated portal and access to invoices, purchases, service history and more.
Discount Tire was able to carefully and deliberately orchestrate a blended shopping experience by understanding the nuances of its customer base, which also gave rise to Discount Tire’s personalization strategy (driven by Adobe Target).
The strategy, in its simplest form, would activate targeted messaging for customers located in different weather environments. On the more advanced side, the company has leveraged elements like QR code scanning to drive personalization. In short order, Adobe Target became a valuable tool that the company was quick to adopt internally.
Being an essential retailer
During the early peak of the 2020 pandemic, Discount Tire also customized messaging based on real-time conditions in each of the 36 states where it operated stores. They communicated detailed safety measures, and messages were delivered consistently on desktop, mobile and in-store screens via Adobe Experience Manager.
Steve Fournier, vice president of Discount Tire’s omnichannel department, expanded on the interdisciplinary approach the organization took to meet the needs of its customers and employees, as well as how they wielded Adobe’s cutting-edge CX toolset.
“As an essential business, we felt very prepared when COVID-19 became a part of our everyday lives,” Fournier said.
“Like other retailers, our top priority was to keep employees and customers safe. We asked customers to defer regular maintenance items like tire rotations and focused instead on those who had a more critical need. Customers could do all the prep work online and when they arrived, the experience was completely touchless. This allowed our customers to stay in their cars during their appointments, and many of them have shared their appreciation for how seriously we took the pandemic.”
Discount Tire continues to build on its initial preparedness and is ready to meet a post-COVID market in stride.
“Once we’re all on the other side of COVID-19, we expect many of these trends to persist,” Fournier said. “From March to July, we have seen between 25 and 30 percent growth in appointments being made online, and transactions have nearly doubled. It is creating a new crop of customers who we expect to continue leveraging these services. We rely on a set of Adobe tools that work together cohesively, for us to deliver a consistent web, mobile and in-store experience, personalized to the individual. Retailers may have been hesitant a year or two ago to fully lean into digital, but now it’s clear there is no other way to succeed.”
From six tires 60 years ago, to the 1,000-plus locations that anchor Discount Tire’s position as the dominant tire and wheel retailer in the U.S., the seamless integration of Adobe’s offerings into Discount’s omnichannel and CX operations has helped the business achieve resiliency and growth — even during a global pandemic. It has also augmented its ability to continue serving its customers on a personal level, just like it did from the very beginning.