Are ultra-high performance tire sales immune to the COVID-19-fueled economic downturn? Butler Tire & Wheels' retail store in Atlanta, Ga., might have an answer.
Of the Marietta, Ga.-based dealership’s four retail locations, its Atlanta store – which specializes in UHP tires and custom wheels – has seen “virtually no slowdown,” according to Craig Dobrin, vice president of operations.
That’s a relatively sharp contrast to Butler Tire’s other retail locations, “which are probably down 15% to 20% in both store traffic and revenue.”
The Atlanta store is in an affluent part of town that Dobrin calls “the Beverly Hills of the city.”
Its high-income residents, many of them corporate executives, are still bringing cars in for custom work.
“A lot are coming in with a second or third vehicle and are saying, ‘What can we do with this car or truck that’s cool?’ A guy will come in with a Ford F-150 and we’ll do a set of wheels and tires and a two-inch lift kit, and it’s a nice, $1,000 sale. But it’s a complete ‘want.’ There’s no ‘need’ whatsoever.
“We’re being carried by people who want things – not by people who need things.”
Just as unexpected is the 15% year-over-year increase at Butler Tire’s sole commercial tire location, says Dobrin.
“I didn’t foresee an uptick,” he notes. “But more customers are knocking on our door. We’re pushing more product and there’s a lot of stuff being sold over there.
“We service contractors, plumbers… it’s been business as usual for these customers,” most of whom have bought tires from Butler for many years.
The company avoids selling to big trucking fleets. “They’re a lot of paperwork and hassle," says Dobrin.
A ‘wall’ of tires
Ensuring the safety of customers and Butler Tire employees remains a high priority across the organization.
However, not all customers complied with initial social distancing precautions, according to Dobrin.
“We initially put tape lines on our floors,” which customers were asked to stand behind. “People ignored them so we put up stanchions with tape.”
Some customers found their way around those, “so we resorted to unusual measures,” including the creation of a “wall” of light truck tires in front of sales counters.
The creative barrier will stay in placed as more customers are expected to flow into Butler Tire’s stores in the coming weeks.
“I think at first it will be slow – like a faucet that will drip for a while. But I think that over the next three to four weeks, whether it’s allowed by local municipalities or state governors,” people will start to come back out.
“People just can’t sit at home anymore. I think they’re bored out of their minds.”