Today’s consumers see something they want and have to have it immediately. If that something is a specialty tire, the commercial dealer who has it will make the sale. “If you have it, you are going to sell it,” says Doug Therrien, president of Central Tire Co. Inc. based in Sanford, Maine.
“When their machine is down, people cannot wait two or three days to get a tire. They will drive an hour to two hours to get a tire if you’re the only one who has it.”
Mike Hill sums up consumer expectations for specialty tires in just two words: McDonald’s mentality. “They want to get it and they want it now. It’s not like the old days where they’d say I need a farm tire and I need to call someone so I can get it in a week or two. They expect you to have it for them right now.”
Hill is vice president of sales for Medina, Ohio-based North Gateway Tire Co. Inc., which recently completed an 82,000-square-foot addition to its warehouse in Seville, Ohio. Products in the 250,000-square-foot building range from four-inch cart tires to 29.5 R25 off-the-road tires, along with tubes and wheels. North Gateway Tire also serves wholesale customers out of an 80,000-square-foot building about 10 miles away in Medina.
The Medina facility houses a 27-bay retail store, too. The company is owned by Darell Hill in partnership with Bob Dunlap of Dunlap & Kyle Co. Inc., which is based in Batesville, Miss.
North Gateway Tire makes daily deliveries to wholesale customers in Ohio, western Pennsylvania, northwest West Virginia, and half of Michigan.
“The number one thing in selling specialty tires as far as your lawn and garden, boat trailer, OTR, farm, you name it as far as the specialty tire line, is having the inventory,” says Hill. “If you don’t have it, you can’t sell it. That goes both at the distribution level and the retail level.”
Central Tire is a third-generation dealership founded in 1939 by the late Arthur Therrien. His son, Rene, led the company until his retirement two years ago. Rene’s sons took over, with Doug becoming president and Jeff vice president. The company provides retail, commercial and wholesale services out of its headquarters in Sanford. Central Tire also retreads about 10,000 skid steer, forklift, and medium truck tires a year at the Sanford facility.
The Sanford warehouse measures 15,000 square feet. A commercial store with a 3,000-square-foot warehouse is about two hours north in Shawmut, Maine. A 1,000-square-foot warehouse is located in the town of Waldoboro on Maine’s coast. Central Tire distributes tires to dealers in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and parts of Vermont and Rhode Island.
Therrien suggests independent tire dealers look at their local market, good customers, landscapers and construction companies. “Find out what they are running for equipment. Even if you stock one tire, if they’re down, that could mean everything if you have that tire to get them going.”
Dealers who combine a solid relationship with a wholesaler and a bit of in-store marketing can meet consumers’ demands for specialty tires.
“Be connected to a large wholesaler who handles vast amounts of inventory across the board,” says Andy Ondo, vice president of purchasing for Gateway Tire. “Become a purchaser from those suppliers.”
Therrien says his employees are on the phone with his wholesale accounts all day long every day. “Someone will call them for a price, and they’ll call us for a price. We tell them we have it in stock and can get it to them today if they need it.”
A wholesaler can help a dealer’s profitability as well. “Partner up with us,” says Hill. “If you pick us for boat trailer tires every time someone walks in your door but don’t buy any passenger or light truck tires, you’re not getting the best deal.”
Display ‘low-dollars’ inventory
Hill recommends stocking top movers in trailer and lawn and garden tires.
“Low-dollars inventory is what I call it. Have it and display it. Let your customers know you sell that type of product. Put up a small display of your lawn and garden and boat trailer tires, maybe a couple of skid steer tires, front farm tires and implement tires. If you can’t have a display, put something in writing on the walls.”
The machines customers purchase help guide Therrien’s decisions on tires to stock. If a Central Tire customer buys a certain machine, Therrien will make sure he stocks a tire for it. He also watches for new machines coming into the market. “If we’re seeing a new machine in a couple customer locations, or at a rental yard like United Rentals or Hertz Equipment Rental, we’ll stock one or two tires for it.”
Hill feels the key for a successful retail operation is to supply all tire needs. He points out that does not have to mean large OTR tires. Instead, stock the products that a customer who buys passenger tires also uses, such as boat trailer, lawn and garden, and ATV tires.
“If a customer needs mower tires, you don’t want him to go to another dealer because he may find a better deal on passenger tires there. Be able to supply those smaller needs, the everyday family needs.” Since a dealer’s passenger tire customers may also own or manage home building, landscaping, excavating, and other companies that use construction tires, Hill suggests stocking those types of tires, too.
Be a know-it-all
A reputation as a know-it-all is essential in the specialty tire business. “You have to have knowledge of the equipment,” says Therrien. “My brother and I are very knowledgeable about off-road equipment. If people tell us what equipment they are using, we usually know the tire size.”
Until the early 2000s, Central Tire supplied mainly passenger and light truck tires through its wholesale division. The Therrien brothers bought a service truck and began offering emergency road service about 15 years ago.
“We focused on equipment companies,” says Therrien. “Every day we were out there, we just learned all the equipment and the tires. That’s when we realized we need to stock those tires.” Sales and service of commercial tires is the bulk of the company’s business today.
Information sells tires, says Ondo. “If you want a different size or different tread pattern, you can’t do a Google search; you have to call North Gateway Tire. We have a lot of experienced people who know tread patterns, sizes, and options for customers who want to change a pattern or tire on their equipment or vehicle. You can’t Google that.”
North Gateway Tire freely shares information about specialty tires. “We supply that information to our dealers, and our dealers supply it to their customers,” says Ondo. “It sells tires. When customers know you can get something out of the ordinary for them, they are going to come back to you.”