March 1, 2013
Some people stumble upon their destinies, but Ron Wilbert, of Wilbert’s Inc. in upstate New York, rolled into his long before he was a teenager. His father and founder of Wilbert’s Inc., Arthur Wilbert, gave him a job that no one wanted – to sort and organize the piles of tires at Wilbert’s back in the early seventies.
“In the late seventies, Dad never told me to stop so I just kept going,” said Ron Wilbert, now one of the owners of Wilbert’s Inc. “We started installing tires which led to a new tire shop for installations and storage. We also actively started purchasing used tires from other recyclers and tire dealers. By the eighties we were also selling multiple brands of new tires as well.”
At the same time that their tire business was developing, Ron also discovered a passion for wheels. Wilbert’s started refinishing steel and alloy wheels over 25 years ago and now stock nearly 10,000 new, refinished and used wheels. This passion led Ron and his team to grow his tire and wheel business to represent almost half of the dollar volume for Wilbert’s sales.
Today, Ron has taken on other responsibilities since his father’s passing five years ago, as Wilbert’s has now grown to three locations, with a recently opened U-Pull-It yard. Ron says he is proud to not only work with his two brothers, but also to have three sons and a nephew amongst their 61 employees.
The hard work of Ron and the team at Wilbert’s Inc. has caught the attention of fellow recyclers.
“Tires have always been one of our top sellers and we look to Wilbert’s Inc. for ideas on how to improve our own business,” said Steve Barkwell of Gary’s U-Pull-It, Binghamton, NY. “Wilbert’s has been in business for over 60 years and is well respected in the industry, especially when it comes to how to run an efficient and impressive tire sales business.”
Wilbert’s was able to achieve this reputation by concentrating on areas such as quality control, organization and exceptional customer service.
“Automotive recyclers have always had the ingredients to be in the tire business, but many have chosen in the past to overlook it,” said Wilbert. “With the recent great increases in cost, tires have become a commodity that now cannot be ignored. How sophisticated a tire business you wish to develop is a derivative of time, talent, and space. Having the traffic through your store to which to market the tires isn’t even an excuse any more as thousands of used tires are sold every day on eBay and Craigslist.”
The first most important ingredient in getting started is to have the right man for the job. That means having an employee devoted to inspecting, labeling, organizing, and selling your tires. That employee is also going to need a well-lit and climatecontrolled area to set up shop. If you’re processing anywhere close to 1,000 cars a year, the employee will need additional help, suggests Ron. Wilbert’s, who also sells new tires, have two full-time sales people, two installation techs and two more employees for processing, inspecting and labeling and that doesn’t include parttime help.
Going hand-in-hand with selecting the right dedicated staff for the job, is putting thorough and clear processes in place for your tire business. The team at Wilbert’s spent a lot of time making sure that their processes for inspecting, testing, repairing and cleaning tires were detailed, accurate and meet the highest quality standards.
“The procedure I feel is the most important of all of them is the proper inspection of used tires when removed from vehicles for dismantling,” said Wilbert. “Before deflating tires for dismounting they should be visually inspected for sidewall bulges or cuts as well as weather cracking. These conditions are much more obvious when tires are inflated. Mark damage with an ink crayon to prevent these tires being sold thus becoming a liability.
“Most importantly, don’t let your tire processor dismount sellable tires that are flat or low on air. Instead inflate these tires and inspect for the source of air loss. The purchase of a dunk tank saves much time in this process. Don’t throw away money! Tires with plugs or nails can easily be permanently repaired with a small investment of materials and training.”
Wilbert’s also internally inspects tires for damage after dismounting to ensure they are selling a safe product and to reduce liability issues. Wilbert says they are able to place stickers on their tires that say “Inspected and Guaranteed” because their processes allow them to have confidence in their tires.
Wilbert’s considers tread depth, wear pattern, popularity, and the manufacturer of the tire when determining a competitive price. They are careful to not overprice their tires worn beyond 50% and offer a reduced price for single tires. Winter tires, excluding LT, are only processed during the winter season when their value is high.
“Don’t over price tires you think you’re going to make a lot on,” said Wilbert. “For example, if you get some current model cars with unique size tires realize that they are going to be the hardest to sell because the type of customer that would own that kind of vehicle, is not your average customer.
“Keep your tires competitively priced especially if you are new to tire retailing. Once you have the traffic, then you can demand more for your product.”
Another part of Wilbert’s attention to detail is the labeling they do for each tire. In addition to the “Inspected and Guaranteed” stickers they place on their tires following inspection, they are careful to note any blemishes on the label and the invoice.
“We go to great lengths to get special labels that can’t be removed,” said Wilbert. “If a customer tries to pull the label to switch it for one on a cheaper tire, the label tears, alerting the retail staff. This helps gives us extra protection against fraud.”
Also vital to a thriving tire business is the quality of staff you employ. Wilbert’s has dedicated staff to their tire business for 30 years. Their top parts salesman has spent many years selling tires. This reflects their belief that educated tires sales people not only sell more tires, but keep customers coming back. Their attention to customer service also led them to offer tire installations as part of their business.
“Half of our customers wouldn’t come to Wilbert’s without our excellent customer service,” said Ron.
“We expect to get customers that don’t know what size tire they need for their car. We frequently inspect the tires on a customer’s car as the first step to make sure of what their needs are. Many of our used tire customers trust us to pick the tires they need, as they know we are the professionals.
“We probably install 95% of the used and new tires we sell. Our return ratio is less than 1% on tires because we take care of everything. Customers are busy so they prefer a one-stop tire shop.”
Wilbert’s started stocking new tires because they felt it made sense instead of sending their customers down the road. If they are out of stock of the used tires the customer needs they make sure to have the new tires so they meet the customer’s needs.
“New tire sales are an integral part of our business now,” said Ron. “It enhances our customer service allowing customers to find the tires they need here. When customers come through our door they don’t know if they will leave with used or new tires because it depends on our inventory and stock; but they know they can depend on us to meet their needs.”
And finally when thinking about your full service tire business, it’s important to have a clean, well-lit area to store and sell your tires. Tires should be racked in an organized fashion so customers can easily find what they need. The area should be adjacent to your retail counter and must be maintained daily.
Wilbert’s uses two tire barns that can store over 1,000 tires at a time and they assist all customers with their purchases.
When it comes to self-service facilities, Ron says that there are special considerations for selling tires.
“Most u-pull-its have not adjusted pricing to reflect the increases in tire cost,” said Ron. “They price by rim size with no consideration of the tread depth. Therefore, they quickly sell their high tread tires that are under-priced to customers who many times will resell them at their real value for more profit than the u-pull-it was making. Also the u-pull-its are left with marginal tires that are overpriced that they can’t sell.
“Therefore, I developed a color-based tire pricing system for our u-pull-it yard. All tires are inspected while the car is on the drain table. All unsafe non-sellable tires are sprayed with a bright orange line on the sidewall. All other tires are sprayed one of three designated colors on the tread to represent good, better, best categories with three different price designations associated to the colors.”
Should you decide to get into the tire business, Ron’s advice is to, “Be patient. It takes time to develop a niche, but you already have the gold so just mine it. Even though it’s black it still pays off green!”
Wilbert’s has prospered over the years because of the importance they put on the family, employees, and the communities they serve. Wilbert’s has three locations in upstate New York currently with 61 employees and growing!
Ron has also served as Past President of the NE-PRP group for the past two years and led them to great growth. Ron is happy to answer all request for info at firstname.lastname@example.org
Michelle Keadle-Taylor is a freelance writer based in Northern Virginia.