Opportunity knocks at the front door of SS Tire and Auto Service Center, Barberton, Ohio. That’s where owner Craig Schwendeman keeps a specialty tire display at the eight-bay, single location tire and service center.
He doesn’t sell lawn and garden or trailer tires to every person who walks through the door, but that’s not the purpose of the display.
“We display specialty tires in the showroom all the time so everybody who comes in for anything sees we handle them,” Schwendeman explains. “It’s pretty much word-of-mouth. People get specialty tires from us, they tell other people. People find out we handle them and then they think of us when they need them.”
Schwendeman says SS Tire is the only tire dealer in its market to offer tires for ATVs, go-karts, golf carts, lawn mowers, trailers and wheelbarrows.
“I’ve got plenty of room to stock. After you’ve been handling them for so long you know what you want to stock and what you can get for people based on the turnover.”
That turnover has remained steady for years. Schwendeman says specialty tire sales at SS Tire haven’t suffered as a result of the economic downturn of the past several years.
“A lot of tire dealers don’t like to mess with them and we’re happy to do it and make a little extra gross on them,” he says. “I would guess that as a percentage of my business, specialty tires are about 5%.”
Many of Schwendeman’s specialty tire customers are local companies that have small work vehicles. But there are also a lot of individual consumer sales in addition to commercial customers.
“The more you handle specialty tires over the years, the more people will think of you when they need an unusual tire,” says Schwendeman. “Price is less important when a customer can find the tire they need and they know you are somebody who can take care of them.”
SS Tire has been taking care of its customers for a long time. His father started the business in 1952, and Schwendeman worked at the store during his childhood school years. He started working at SS Tire full time in 1969, when the business was selling a “decent number” of specialty tires.
“We’ve always sold specialty tires and after I started full-time we started selling a lot more going into the early 1970s,” explains Schwendeman. “It’s always been a good niche for us.”
Because of its seasonal nature, the specialty tire market doesn’t change as rapidly as other tire market segments. That includes the evolution away from bias toward radial.
“With specialty tires, everything is still pretty much bias except boat trailer tires and that’s now about 98% radial,” says Schwendeman. “Over the years we used to sell a lot of bias trailer tires and now that’s gone pretty much all radial. They’ll replace bias trailer tires with radials for the most part.”
SS Tire carries specialty tire brands that include Carlisle, Power King (a TBC brand) and Deestone.
While word-of-mouth advertising has been an effective advertising tool to bring in specialty tire customers, Schwendeman said he would like to enhance his website to increase Web presence (see www.SSTireandService.com).
“Except for adding new sizes periodically as they become more popular, we’re pretty well established in our market now.”
Online sales is S&S Tire’s specialty
Robert (Bob) Slagle, owner of S&S Tire & Auto Service Center, has taken the specialty tire market to a new level of technology.
In December 2011, Slagle launched a new website where dealers can go to shop online for specialty tires. That’s in addition to three retail store operations he operates in the Peoria, Ariz., area
“We sell specialty tires almost every day on our e-commerce consumer website, www.Tiresusa.com,” explains Slagle. “We ship those daily. We also have another B-to-B website, www.Affordable-online.com, which is designed for golf courses and landscapers. With a user name and password they can log-on and check our inventory, check our pricing and submit an order.”
Slagle bills the site as “the most advanced e-commerce platform in the specialty tire industry.” The secure and user-friendly e-commerce system features an advanced search and filtering system.
TiresUSA.com offers specialty tires and wheels for all types of off-road, recreational, turf and utility vehicles, including lawn mowers, wheelbarrows, golf carts and ATVs. The brands Slagle carries include Amerityre, Carlisle, Greenball, Deestone, Galaxy, Titan, Achieva and BKT.
“There’s no reason shopping online for specialty tires should be any harder than books or clothing,” says Slagle. “With TiresUSA.com, we’re using the latest e-commerce technology to make buying specialty tires easy.”
Slagle said dealers must have the inventory and the knowledge of the product and the tread patterns to be in the specialty tire business. How can a dealer gain that knowledge? “By reading data books and asking questions of those in the business,” says Slagle. “We have information on our website including explanations on tread patterns and why use different patterns.”
In addition to the Web, Slagle sells specialty tires in all three retail stores. He said people usually find him after they’ve made calls looking for a particular size and one of his competitors will recommend S&S.
“A customer will call and want something very specific, and we’ll have it in three brands and two to three different tread designs,” he explains. “Then all of a sudden price doesn’t become very important and they’ll say, ‘Hang on to what you have and I’ll be down to buy it. Oh, and by the way, how much is it?’”
One of the largest sections of TiresUSA.com is devoted to helpful articles, which cover everything from choosing the proper golf cart tire tread to mounting a wheelbarrow tire. “Our articles are a great way to learn tire basics such as proper tire inflation or how to choose the right lawn mower tire tread,” says Slagle. “We’re adding new articles every week to explain different specialty tire topics.”
Market first: an asymmetric ATV tire!
In the perennially stable specialty tire market, there haven’t been a lot of changes in the trends of the market. Besides a gradual shift from bias to radial in ATV, boat and trailer tires, not much has gone on — until now.
Dealers who sell ATV tires will be interested to discover that Vision Wheel Inc. has introduced the Duo Trax ATV tire that features the first asymmetric tread design for performance in mud, hardpack and snow.
The radial design of the all-terrain six-ply tire ensures a smooth ride and increased handling stability at high speeds and on hard cornering, notes Vision Wheel.
The tire is available in sizes 26x11R12, 26x9R12, 26x11R14 and 26x9R14. Duo Trax is DOT approved for limited highway use.