Wednesday, December 5, 2012

You Bought Your Tires Online? Now What?

This last spring, the annual ritual of checking the motorcycle enhancement funds took place. It was time to purchase tires for my $100 BMW motorcycle (1985 K100RT). I had originally purchased the bike because the engine ran (sort’ve, but smoky) and had two good tires. After fettling with it for a few years, "K" finally ran good last summer, and subsequently wore off its old tires.

Being the brilliant ecommerce specialist (?), I decided to purchase my tires online. Also, I understand that my aging BMW is not the speed demon like my other bike, and did not really need my usual Metzler gooey fitments. I opted for the Shinko (Korean) brand for less than half the price. I reasoned they own Yokohama and probably had a good product, so this was going to be a good deal. (The tread pattern is exactly the same as on my Yamaha FZR350 with Yokohama tires) The idea here is my budget tires were pretty good choices and I can get actually buy them (vs. putting on credit card). After checking around, I bought my tires online because no one in town could even come close to the price.

I placed the order with Tuesday and they were at my door when I got home from work on Friday night. Pretty impressive, good price and fast shipping, too. Now, all I had to do was get them mounted.

I jacked the bike up in the workshop (converted furnace room), removed the wheels and began calling the several shops in town, hoping to get a weekend appointment. A simple install, I thought. The wheels and tires all in one carry-in package. Ready for the mount and balance, I even cleaned them up so they had “shine.”

That’s when I started running into trouble. The first shop I called was H-D. They informed me that they only do H-D’s and wouldn’t touch a BMW. I asked how they were ever going to earn my business that way? “Dunno” he said, that was just the rule, “We’ve been around a long time.” “OK”, I thought, maybe they were making too much money and didn't need my business.

So I called the Yamaha / Honda shop. They would do it, but because I didn’t buy my tires from them., they were going to charge me double to install them. “Really?” “Why is that a good idea?” I wondered out loud. “Dunno” he said, “Policy” was the reason given. I mentioned my “policy”, too. “If you don’t take care of my simple needs, why would I ever consider buying a bike from you?”

I called the last shop in town. They do Kawasaki, Polaris, and a few other brands. The guy on the phone sounded cool. “Yeah, bring it in. We’ll take care of you.” That sounded good. “Saturday?” “Sure” OK, I thought, if this works out they are going to get my business from now on.

So Saturday morning, there I was, bright and early. The store wasn’t busy yet, so I thought this should be a “cinch.” Walked up to the counter and asked if they could do the work right away? Funny, but the mood started to go sideways, again. First the hemming and hawing and then, “Well, we’ll have to charge you extra cause you didn’t buy them here.” “That’s not what you told me when I called”, was my response. My question was greeted by blank stares.

Just then another guy walked behind the counter. He had the air of someone in charge, although he didn’t think it necessary to introduce himself. He started to lecture me, obviously loud enough so the several other customers in the store could benefit from his lesson, too. That’s considerate, I thought (not). He was actually starting to embarrass me, publically. I apparently had transgressed some unwritten law, “Thou shalt not buy tires online.”

First he said, he doubted the quality of the tires ‘cause they came from unreliable sources. Then he launched into an explanation of the insurance implications of putting on tires a customer brings in. And then he explained that was why they were going to charge me double to do the job.

OK, let me ask a couple of questions: First, how much do you make when you sell a tire? Not much, right? Then how do you do on the labor charges? Much better, right? (I actually know the margin percentages, but didn’t want to show my hand) So then, why would you turn a customer away because he had purchased a low margin product somewhere else and want to buy your high margin labor to put it on? (And you would also gain another customer for your retail store.)

The second question was, if there were truly an insurance liability, and my wife and I were maimed for life because you put on bad tires and they caused an accident; how far will that extra $50 you charged me go for your legal defense? By then, he was red faced yelling at me; across the counter, in front of other customers. I walked out. I haven't ever been back in that store.

I did go back online though, to that evening and ordered a nice set of tire irons. And yep, they arrived in just a couple of days and were a lot cheaper than the exact same set I had seen while in the store. The next Saturday afternoon, I grabbed my wife’s dish soap, lubed up the rims, and put them on. It was actually pretty easy. I don’t know I would do them for anyone else. But I would do them again for myself. Especially now that I know I can do it.

I’m also checking out the price of a good tire changer machine. Seems I could make a little money at this in my spare time. Since this experience, I’ve met a lot of people in town that have had the same thing happen to them. They hate going into the dealerships, too.

My positive take away (from a very negative experience) is this: I don’t need the local dealer for hardly anything. I know now that I can do most things myself. So let me ask you: “Is this a case of the evils of ecommerce, or the medieval idea of retail protectionism? You can be the judge, but I think you know where I stand. Never really cared for small thinking, it’s almost a sin.

IMHO: Dealers should actually encourage customers to get the best deal they can. And if it’s online, good for them. But let them bring in thier dirty work. There is good margin in it. Make friends. People come back when they are given good service.

Then I’d probably be financing my new sport touring bike, helmets and leathers from you, Mr. Local Dealer.

BTW: The $100 dollar BMW is looking pretty good these days, fresh tires and paint. Proud to take my wife and I anywhere we want to go. And the tires are excellent!

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