During the past year, Sears Automotive rolled out a new fleet strategy in an effort to grow its commercial business and become a larger player in the industry. New "commercial" features include an increased customer service presence, more service options, and point-of-sale enhancements.

According to Robert Santor, national commercial sales manager at Sears Automotive, the company realized it was just scratching the surface within the fleet industry and knew it had much more to offer. The company decided to research how its biggest and best competitors were working within the industry.

"We realized that in order to grow, we needed to invest in this business," Santor said. "A year ago, we made a conscious decision to invest in growing our commercial business. We put several new initiatives in place this past year to help us become a bigger service provider in the industry."

Santor has worked for Sears over the past 16 years, nine spent within the commercial sales group. For the past year, he led commercial efforts with new customer business strategies. Santor focuses on internal development, working with Sears' service and merchandising teams to place new product offerings online and in approximately 840 stores.

"Fleets need not worry about whether our stores are open," Santor pointed out. "We're open nights, weekends, and most holidays. There's a quote we like to say at Sears Automotive: 'We can work on a fleet vehicle when it's not working.' "


Sears Aims to Give Commercial Customers a 'One-Stop' Shop

"Let Sears Commercial Automotive be your one-stop shop" summarizes Sears Automotive's ultimate goal - to supply customers with products, parts, and services all at one location.

"Many customers don't realize our depth of service and think we just do tires and batteries," Santor said. "We offer a wide variety of products and services, including maintenance services, alternators, and starters."

Other products available at Sears Automotive shops include tires, custom wheels, batteries, oil, brake parts, suspension parts, wiper blades, jump start boxes, jumper cables, and alignments, among others.

Other areas that set the company apart from its competition include:

  • Account management: Sears employs a dedicated team of commercial account managers across the country. One is assigned to each commercial account.
  • Tire selection: Sears Automotive stores offer more name brand tires than most of their competitors, including a large selection of opening price point tires, according to the company.
  • Scheduling, pricing, and delivery: Sears.com provides an online scheduler, stores offer competitive and consistent pricing, and many shops deliver multiple times per day. "We always pay attention to pricing to make sure we're competitively priced at all times," Santor said.
  • Inventory programs: Account managers assist with a stocking program that puts the bestselling tires in client inventory for quicker customer sales and regular replenishment.
  • Purchasing account: Sears eliminates the need for checks or credit cards with a monthly purchasing account.

"In this industry, problems arise at the best of repair facilities. It is what happens when there are issues that separate the vendors from the national preferred partners. Sears steps up to their issues, when they arise, and always look to find ways to prevent those issues from arising again," said David Jankiewicz, maintenance and repair management director, LeasePlan USA.

"Sears' responsiveness in the fleet industry is second to none. They really understand that timeliness and customer experience consistency is everything. And not just from the driver's perspective, but from the fleet perspective at a corporate level. Our clients need to know that when one of our providers say that they will resolve issues quickly and fairly they back that up each and every time," said Jankiewicz.


Providing a Compelling Shop for Fleet Drivers

Santor said it's vital for Sears Automotive Center to grow its commercial business and become a larger player in the fleet industry because it ties in with the company's overall business strategy - offering competitive pricing, great products, and excellent service in its stores, not only with retail customers but fleet drivers as well.

"When you provide a compelling place for fleet drivers to shop, you grow the retail business as well because fleet drivers also drive personal vehicles," he said.

Amping up customer service for commercial accounts was a critical move over the past year, enabling the company to heighten its customer service track record.

"We increased the number of account managers in the field, giving each manager a smaller market area and the opportunity to visit stores more often, establish solid relationships, and increase customer service," Santor stated.

Account managers were also given additional training in sales, merchandise, and customer service, as well as new sales tools, such as wireless media and product guides and brochures. Another innovative change: outfitting shops to service hybrids.

"We've also made point-of-sale enhancements to improve the driver experience by dramatically streamlining the process," Santor said.

Another big step for the Sears Automotive commercial team during the last year was launching a new commercial Web site that dealers and fleet customers can access, with more Web site enhancements on the horizon.

More Upcoming Plans for Sears Automotive

The commercial team constantly looks to add to its suite of offerings and doesn't plan to stop now.

"While we're excited with what we have accomplished, we're always looking for ways to improve and take even better care of our fleet customers, streamline service, and provide an even better, faster, and higher quality of service," Santor said.

Moving forward, the team hopes to offer electric vehicle products, expand store counts, enhance its online tool, and further develop its point-of-sale features.

"Our big project for 2011 will be to revamp our system and enhance authorization for repairs," Santor concluded.