Investing in nitrogen inflation equipment can be an expensive proposition, especially on the commercial truck tire side. Machines often cost thousands of dollars and getting the word out about the benefits of nitrogen inflation can require a great deal of money, depending on the methods used.
However, an increasing number of enterprising commercial truck tire dealers are discovering that nitrogen inflation -- when priced and marketed correctly — can beget substantial profits. Here’s a look at how several tire dealers have turned nitrogen into a revenue stream for their companies.
‘We had to keep up’
Tony Roe manages the truck tire business of a Tireman Auto Service Centers store in Maumee, Ohio, near Toledo. His store, along with two other outlets in the 12-store Tireman chain, offers nitrogen for medium truck tires.
Roe’s location began offering nitrogen two years ago after a competitor started selling the service. “We had to keep up,” he says. “Now every truck that leaves here has nitrogen in its tires.”
When Tireman decided to provide nitrogen, it did more advertising “on the consumer tire side than the commercial side,” an approach it continues to this day. “Our commercial business has always been word-of-mouth. A lot of truck drivers are loyal. It’s usually a matter of, ‘Well, my buddy said...’”
Roe charges $8 to fill a medium truck tire with nitrogen. “It’s time consuming. If you have an RV with six tires, it will take a half-hour to 45 minutes. It takes 10 minutes to let the old air out of a tire. We charge more for the time than for the nitrogen itself.”
At the moment, Roe and his sales team are promoting the inflation pressure retention benefits of nitrogen. However, a nearby trucking company “is running a test on nitrogen to see if they can reduce their fuel consumption.” He’s looking forward to seeing the results.
$30 per tire!
Like Tireman, Advantage Tire and Auto in Oldsmar, Fla., began offering nitrogen to fleets at one of its shops nearly two years ago. (The dealership has five locations on the west coast of Florida.)
“We’d been doing some reading and saw that other dealers were offering it,” says Manager Jim Linville. “We liked what we saw, including the benefits it showed, and thought we should get into it. It’s paid off pretty well.”
Advantage Tire bought a Branick Industries nitrogen inflation machine for about $4,500. The firm -— which also fills consumer tires with nitrogen -— charges a staggering $30 to fill a medium truck tire with nitrogen. It takes 10 to 15 minutes for Advantage techs to inflate a truck tire with nitrogen.
“Our techs are salary so it doesn’t hurt us that much. I bet in the last month we’ve inflated two or three tractor-trailers per week.” Equipment maintenance is a snap, he says. “We change our filters once every six months. It’s not something that takes a rocket scientist to do.”
In general, Linville’s fleet customers have been happy with the service. “It does give them better gas mileage. We have some customers who have documented that they’re getting as much as four to five miles per gallon more than what they were getting” with regular air.
“They’re also getting greater longevity on the tires themselves. The tires are running cooler so they will last longer.”
Linville makes sure he pushes these points at the sales counter. “You have to so they understand what it’s going to do for them.”
“We make nitrogen mandatory,” says Jamie Miller, who manages Perry County Tire Inc.’s store in Hazard, Ky. (The dealership has three other outlets.) “We sell nitrogen in everything. Even our air tools run on nitrogen!”
Perry County Tire decided to start selling nitrogen three years ago after reading about the service’s profit potential.
The company, which also provides nitrogen for passenger and light truck tires, fills more than 190 medium truck tires per week with nitrogen. “We have a retread plant. We even put nitrogen in our retreads.”
The dealership charges $3 per unit to fill a truck tire with nitrogen, which is lower than what many other commercial dealerships ask, but “we make it up in the long run,” according to Miller.
If customers want to buy tires from the company, he notes, they must agree to nitrogen. “We list in black and white what nitrogen will do.”
Feedback from truckers and fleets has been “very positive.” One of Perry County Tire’s customers bought eight nitrogen-filled truck tires from the dealership, and one of those tires went flat. The customer had that tire fixed and re-inflated with regular air. In time, “that tire began to wear irregularly.” Meanwhile, the seven nitrogen-filled tires “wore smoothly.”
That’s the type of benefit that makes customers glad they purchased tires with nitrogen in them, Miller adds.
Like other commercial tire dealers who sell nitrogen, he’s banking on enthusiastic referrals from customers to generate new business.