A small Subaru dealership in coastal Maine has given $2 million back to its customers over the past decade.
Not in cash but in tires.
Stanley Subaru gives its new-vehicle buyers a benefit it calls "Tires for Life." As long as customers follow Subaru's recommended maintenance schedule and have Stanley Subaru perform the work, the dealership replaces their tires for free when they wear out.
The offer, started in 2003, has helped the dealership achieve one of Subaru's highest customer-retention rates in the country and healthy sales growth even before the automaker got on its current hot streak. From Ellsworth, Maine, a town of around 8,000 people near Acadia National Park, Stanley Subaru sold more than 800 vehicles in 2013 and is on pace to top that this year.
"This is our version of a frequent-flyer program, and we have built our brand with it," said Mark Politte, the dealership's owner. "It's an expensive proposition, but we just try to give them value with each transaction."
The concept is not unique, but the way the deal works at Stanley Subaru is.
Many similar-sounding programs are offered through vendors that package them for dealerships and manage claims. They generally have restrictive requirements that force customers to spend considerably more money and disqualify anyone who misses a service or ever gets work done elsewhere.
A South Carolina Ford dealership posted a chart on its website estimating that a competitor's free-tires offer required nearly $5,000 of service work to qualify for two sets, and a Texas company that sold more than 11,000 "Tires for Life" policies to dealers collapsed with an ugly bankruptcy in 2009.