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'The numbers are exploding': Size proliferation catches up with the small tire set

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'The numbers are exploding': Size proliferation catches up with the small tire set

In the early 1980s, there were just a handful of golf courses in the Phoenix area, says Rob Slagle, general manager of S&S Tire and Auto Service Center, which has three locations in that market. However, their numbers were growing, and growing fast.

S&S Tire made a commitment to be the go-to place for replacement tires for the equipment used on those golf courses, including golf carts and all the tractors and mowers utilized to maintain the facilities.

"The lawn and garden tire business has evolved over time, and we've changed with it," says Slagle. "We started out with one individual going out to golf courses to take orders and deliver the tires the next day."

Now the company has two sales associates plus two delivery truck drivers who drop off tires on a daily basis. The company also uses UPS and other delivery services for customers out of the Phoenix area. It has customers in California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and elsewhere. "We won't turn anyone away," says Slagle.

Little tires, big profits

"Margins and inventory turns are great in lawn and garden tires," says Slagle. "It subsidizes the profit margins on our other tires. It has added a great deal of profit to our bottom line.

"Now as more people get in this niche, price may become more of a concern. But to be successful, dealers must be willing to carry the inventory. The biggest piece of the puzzle is having the dedication to fulfill orders."

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S&S Tire normally has about 2,500 to 4,000 lawn and garden units on hand at all times, Slagle says. "Of course, they're smaller, so they don't take up as much room as passenger and truck tires."

The company may have 60 to 80 of each of a certain popular tire in stock, with that amount lasting about two weeks. Its inventory is in the $40,000 to $50,000 range. "The challenge is having the tires on hand that your customers need," Slagle says. "You're either in the market, or you're not."

With some of today's golf course lawnmowers costing $25,000 or more, Slagle points out that the golf course superintendent can't go to the neighborhood tire dealer for the specialized tire that's fitted to that equipment. It takes a specialized dealer, one who has made a commitment to have the inventory. And the dealer has to be knowledgeable about what works in his market.

"What works on the grass in Arizona might not work in other parts of the country," says Slagle.

And with some golf courses charging $350 for a round of golf, the last thing you want is for the course to have divots or ridges on the grass caused by a tractor's tires, Slagle says. "The golfers would really get upset." So you have to know which tires to recommend that won't damage the surface of the pristine greens.

Common problems

Although sizes and uses differ greatly from passenger, truck and other types of tires, there are common problems.

"In the golf course arena, as in the automotive market, size proliferation has gone crazy!" says Slagle. "The numbers are exploding! Back in the 1980s, the equipment all used just a handful of sizes. It was fairly easy to be in the lawn and garden tire business.

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"But now the equipment has become more sophisticated. Now dealers have to be willing to carry a large inventory to have on hand what the customer needs to fill the application."

Slagle equates what is happening today in the lawn and garden tire market with what happened to the passenger tire market in years past. Where there used to be 40 to 50 sizes that would satisfy the whole light vehicle market, now there are close to 300 sizes.

"The way we look at it, our relationship with our customers has helped us discover what tires to stock. We listen to them. With their help, we can give them what they need. We know what to stock and what not to stock. When they need tires, they need them today, not next week."

S&S Tire also credits its success to having multiple supplier relationships. It works with Carlisle Tire & Wheel Co., Greenball Corp., Titan International Inc. and Galaxy Tire & Wheel Inc.

"If a manufacturer is out of one size or tread design, you can check to see if another can fill your needs."

The lawn and garden market is also very OE-driven, says Slagle. One problem which crops up is that what comes on some equipment as original equipment might not be available in the replacement tire market for six months to a year after the equipment goes on the market. "That's when you have to try to get another tire that will work on the equipment."

Another concern is agreements some lawn tractor manufacturers have with tire suppliers.

"As an example, The Toro Co. might have an exclusive deal with its lawn mower tire supplier stating that it can be the only supplier for a certain replacement tire for a length of time," says Slagle. "That forces the customer to go to a Toro dealer to buy that tire."

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Company grows where it's planted

S&S Tire and Auto Service Center was started in Peoria, Ariz., 30 years ago by Bob and Joanne Slagle. The company now has two additional Arizona locations in the Phoenix area in cities with the surprising names of Surprise and Goodyear. Bob Slagle remains a principal of the company, which has turned into a real family affair.

Although Joanne Slagle is not as active in the everyday proceedings, she remains an officer of the corporation, and their two sons, Rob and Dan, are also key players.

The company is a retail and commercial dealership and also offers a gamut of automotive services such as air conditioning, brake work and alignments. In addition to the lawn and garden tires, it carries Michelin, BFGoodrich, Uniroyal, Continental, Yokohama and Hankook brand tires, among others.

The company deals in passenger, light truck, medium truck, agricultural, lawn and garden tires and the smaller earthmover tires.

"Lawn and garden tires have been a blessing to S&S Tire," says Rob Slagle. "It's put us on the map."

Price as an afterthought? Niche has unique value system

Ron Slagle, general manager of S&S Tire and Auto Service Center in the Phoenix, Ariz., area, says the nice thing about lawn and garden tire sales is they typically unfold with the customer asking, in this order:

1. Do you have the tire I need in stock?

2. How fast can you get it to me?

3. What's the price?

"Price is the third concern," Slagle says. "Customers are much more concerned about you being able to fill their needs quickly."

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