Shopping for UHP service equipment? Three dealers share some tips
Driver expectations for a firmer, sportier and more responsive feel are helping to boost sales of ultra-high performance tires. But maximizing opportunities to profit from consumer demand for shorter sidewalls requires investments in equipment for servicing UHP tire and wheel assemblies.
We asked three dealers who recently purchased UHP tire changers to share their insights on equipment for servicing these tough assemblies efficiently, safely and profitably. Added bonus: One offers a way to increase bay turns and reduce customer wait times.
UHP business has grown steadily for each of these dealers. Alpio Barbara, owner of Redwood General Tire Service Co. in northern California, has seen a 10% increase in UHP tires in the 16- to 20-inch range coming into his shop over the past year. UHP business has doubled in the last two years for Chabill’s Tire Service LLC, which operates 15 Chabill’s Tire & Auto Service stores in southern Louisiana, according to Eric Roundtree, commercial sales manager. In northeast Ohio, Jim Enger reports UHP has grown from 10% a decade ago to 80% of all business today at his shop, Franz Auto Service.
Only leverless machines
In the last year and a half, Barbara has purchased five leverless Auto34 model tire changers by Hunter Engineering Co. for his 19-bay shop in Redwood City, Calif. All of the new changers service UHP tires; prior to the purchase only one of his machines was UHP-compatible. Barbara says all equipment he buys now has to handle UHP tires. ”There’s no sense in buying a cheaper machine and changing everyday tires on it and doing ultra-high performance on the other.”
About 40% of the 80 to 100 tires changed in Barbara’s shop each day are UHP. “If you want to get into the ultra-high performance business you need to have the latest equipment,” he says. For Barbara, the latest means leverless. “You can’t do it on the old equipment anymore; all you’re going to do is ruin the tire. I’m a firm believer that if you don’t have the right equipment you can do damage to the tire even though you don’t see it right there at that time.”
Speed and efficiency also hinge on the tire changer, according to Barbara. “The biggest tip I can give is to have the right equipment. If you don’t have the right equipment, it will take you that much longer; it will take two of your technicians to take a tire off. By having the right equipment, one person can do it.”
Barbara employs 40 people in his shop, which offers mostly retail and a small amount of commercial service. He keeps most Tier One and entry level UHP tires in stock. The exception is tires for ultra-high performance cars, such as Ferrari, which he can get in 24 to 36 hours. “I always say you can’t sell apples out of an empty apple cart,” says Barbara, who has owned his store since 1985.
A mix of standard and leverless
Roundtree has purchased equipment for three new Chabill’s stores in the past year. “We did have to change our thinking when it came to tire machines to be able to do some of the newer vehicles,” he says. The change involved the decision to purchase leverless machines. “Nothing comes in contact with the wheel while you’re mounting and demounting tires, and the machine assists in getting the low profile tires on safely without damaging any wheels.” The leverless machines also add speed and efficiency. Up to three people using a standard tire changer were needed to mount one UHP tire. In contrast, one person using a leverless machine can do the job, says Roundtree.
The company purchased two tire changers for UHP tires in the last year and plans to replace aging machines over the next three to four years. But Chabill’s has not abandoned standard tire changers. Although leverless tire changes can service both UHP and regular tires, Roundtree says Chabill’s “did not want to wear out a high-performance machine on everyday tires.” Depending on volume, some Chabill’s stores will have a standard machine and a UHP machine. Others will have a single standard machine. “We have stores that overlap in the same market. If they don’t have an ultra-high performance machine, they’ll send it to a store across town that does have one. Eventually 75% of our stores will have a UHP machine. It’s just such a large investment we can’t get them all at one time.”
Roundtree says 16-inch to 18-inch low-profile tires account for 35% of Chabill’s business. Less than 10% of tires are W- and Z-rated. Chabill’s shops are equipped with tire changers from Hennessy Industries Inc. and Hunter Engineering Co. The company has about 100 employees and is owned by Charley Gowland.
Two techs for every car
Durability is essential for Enger, whose shop is in Painesville, Ohio. “The tire machines really get worked hard. You need something that lasts,” he says. “When your tire changer breaks you’re not selling tires at least for the rest of the day or the next day, and you have customers waiting. You definitely want to spend the money and get the best.”
In most months, Enger’s four technicians are changing 500 to 600 tires. In November, a good snowfall may boost that figure to around a thousand tires. UHP tires represent about 80% of his business volume.
Enger has two 70X-Series leverless Coats brand models from Hennessy in his 10-bay shop. He plans to upgrade his older machine, which he’s had about 10 years, to Hennessy’s ProGuard Leverless model in 2014.
Although leverless tire changers enable a single technician to change tires, Enger assigns two technicians to every car. He adopted the teamwork approach three years ago to reduce customer wait time.
“We use teamwork where two people are installing the tires,” he says. “One’s mounting and one’s balancing. It’s much faster for the customer to get in and out. One tech is pulling tires off the car and wheeling them over to the other tech, who starts demounting and mounting the new ones. So instead of stacking all four tires and waiting for the second tech to move to the next machine, that tech’s already balancing the tires and bringing them back to the car to install them. It’s better utilization of space, so we can turn the bays over faster.”
How much faster? “It would typically take 30 minutes to install four tires, and now we’ve gotten it down to 15 or 20 minutes.” About 75% of Enger’s inventory is UHP tires. In addition to what he keeps on site, he sources from four major national warehouses that provide just-in-time deliveries in the afternoon or the next day.
What does it take to succeed in UHP?
Frasier Tire Service Inc. considers equipment, selling skills and UHP-related services essential to success in the UHP segment. “Our major concern when committing to service across the UHP segment is the ability to handle the host of wheels involved,” says Tripp Lee, general sales manager. The South Carolina company has its headquarters, distribution center, retreading facility and a retail location in Sumter, plus an eight-bay shop in Columbia and a 10-bay shop in North Charleston.
UHP service has increased 15% over the last two years. At the Sumter location, between 10% and 12% of PLT sales were true UHP fitments in 2013. Lee says the company tries to maintain a UHP inventory level of 120 tires at its distribution center.
To handle wheels involved in the UHP segment, the company wanted an alignment machine whose clamp would only engage the tire and not come into contact with the wheel. Frasier decided on a Geoliner 870 from Hofmann USA, a division of Snap-on Equipment, with alignment heads whose clamp only engages the tire. “Our new aligner works flawlessly, allows us to audit alignment of the vehicles as presented in less than five minutes, and provides increased revenue. Alignments are easy to sell when presented to this segment,” says Lee.
Frasier is also considering upgrading one of its tire machines to a leverless tire changer that reduces the risk of tire or rim damage associated with changing low profile and run-flat tires.
“While we haven’t upgraded our tire machine yet this is a capital investment we plan to make,” says Lee. “Faster, easy-to-use tire changers with power assist that are specifically engineered for oversized, run-flat and low profile applications also come loaded with built-in features that make it easier to lift, loosen the bead on, demount and mount the tire by only one operator in a very ergonomic setting.”
The UHP tire segment seems to have settled down to a core of 17- to 20-inch sizes, according to Lee. “Projections I’m aware of show this to still be the same going forward, especially driven by the OE commitment.” He says while the UHP segment provides unique opportunities, it requires Frasier Tire to devote time to the training of sales professionals.
“Our biggest commitment to UHP remains our time, and time is money. The UHP customer arrives looking to have his previous research, which was done mostly online, and opinions validated.
“Sales training is crucial to success in the business of high-performance tire selling. The people selling these tires must be subject-matter experts who warmly greet and actively engage these discerning and ever-evolving UHP customers.”
Lee suggests other UHP-related services that will keep customers coming back to a dealership:
• annual four-tire alignment checks;
• check the toe adjustments twice a year;
• tire rotating and balancing; and
• nitrogen tire pressure service.
Lee says dealers might want to look into nitrogen tire fill at their dealerships. “Depending on the level of UHP saturation in your market, this may be a service to add. Nitrogen fill is an easier sell to this segment than most others.”
Lee says Frasier Tire expects the replacement market in HP to get bigger over the next few years. “This will take some wheel positions away from UHP because not everyone is looking for ultimate high performance. While HP tires may be the new normal from OEM, I’m confident the H-speed-rated tire is becoming the tire of choice in the aftermarket.” ■
Buyer checklist: Parts and service
Manufacturers are challenged to design machines to safely and efficiently mount and demount stiff and difficult UHP assemblies. In addition to the machine’s capabilities, tire professionals Alpio Barbara, Eric Roundtree and Jim Enger recommend asking about parts availability and service policies.
“Service is key for me. If something should happen, how fast can you get your machine up and running? You’ve got to find that out. Machines are going to break. Try to get a commitment from the company. Can you get it fixed in 48 hours, 24 hours? If your machine is down, and if you only have one, you’re out of business.” — Alpio Barbara, Redwood General Tire Service Co.
“A big factor in what we buy is service. Hunter and Coats have excellent service. A lot of retail stores will try to sell equipment, but we try to stay with those two because of the service. We know we can get service in 24 hours. That’s a big plus factor in where you are going to buy the machine. Not just which type of machine, but who you will buy it from. — Eric Roundtree, Chabill’s Tire & Auto Service
“The parts have to be definitely available and be very high quality. If the parts are hard to come by, sometimes you have to wait a week or two or pay for extra handling.” — Jim Enger, Franz Auto Service
Tips for servicing UHP tires quickly and safely
We asked equipment manufacturers for tips on servicing UHP tires more efficiently.
Kevin Keefe, vice president of marketing for Hennessy Industries Inc., shares suggestions drawn from his company’s experience with Lean principles, which are manufacturing practices for creating more value with fewer resources. Here are some main tenets.
• Simplify. Have only what you need. If you don’t use it, get rid of it.
• Straighten. Put tools at point of use where they need to be and eliminate wasted steps and motion.
• Scrub. Keep everything neat and clean for safety as well as efficiency.
• Stabilize and sustain. Have a process to maintain the first three tenets every day.
“It seems pretty basic, but what it does is make sure you operate as efficiently and safely as possible day-to-day. That in turn helps drive bay turns and helps you do the job right the first time,” he says.
Equipment also plays a part. “We’ve also come out with equipment that we believe drives efficiency such as the EL-X inflation system. That can knock 20% off your bay times for a four-tire ticket and increase inflation accuracy, which prevents comebacks.”
Today’s tires are predominately performance and specialty assemblies, with traditional assemblies now representing just 22% of all OEM passenger and light truck fitments, according to Hunter Engineering Co. Hunter says low profile tires, which it defines as a 45 series and lower, are 50% of all OEM fitments. Shops now need a tire changer that can not only handle these tires, but handle them quickly and easily without extensive technician training, according to Pete Liebetreu, senior product manager. He says Hunter’s Revolution tire changer is engineered to master today’s assemblies and handles virtually all tires in the same amount of time. The company also designed its RoadForce Touch balancer to audit every wheel and tire assembly before it leaves the shop without time penalty.
Liebetreu says Hunter’s patented ExpressAlign software has increased efficiency in alignment bays by analyzing the vehicles alignment and then guiding the technician step by step through the most efficient process to complete the alignment. Hunter also offers the Quick Check vehicle inspection system to help streamline the repair process by determining which bay the vehicle should be placed into in the shop and identifies vehicle systems that need further investigation.
Scott Farr, wheel service and equipment business development manager for Bosch Automotive Service Solutions LLC, says keep the focus on performance rather than price. “The best way a shop can capitalize on the increase in UHP configurations would be to invest in the right equipment, demand proper training and proper technique is utilized by shop personnel, and price services accordingly. Don’t fixate on the prices charged across the street. Instead, do it better and reap the rewards of a more demanding and discerning clientele.”