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Off-Road Trends Help Grand Tire Pros Grow

It's All About LT Tires in Moab

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The Easter Jeep Safari is the main event in Moab, Utah, each year. Off-roading has almost turned into a year-round sport here and that’s providing more opportunity for Grand Tire Pros, which enjoyed its best year in 2020.

For Grand Tire Pros in Moab, Utah, it used to be that the entire sales year revolved around a single event: the Easter Jeep Safari, a nine-day, off-roading bonanza that attracts tens of thousands of people to this remote desert town and the breathtaking national parks that surround it.

For years, the tire dealership’s founder, Chip Brox, talked about how his small dealership in Moab would ring up 40% of its annual sales in the days surrounding the popular event.

Store manager Jeff Edwards says in those days, Brox talked about the business running on two seasons — spring and late spring. 

“Anything else was icing on the cake.”

But now the popularity of off-roading and rock climbing has blown up to create a nine-month season. Some years, when the weather cooperates, it can stretch into 11 months. 

As a result, Grand Tire Pros, which has been known for its light truck tire expertise for decades, has only tightened its grip on that market.

The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out a few months of off-roading activity in early-2020, including the historically critical Easter Jeep Safari. But it has come roaring back.

“The first part of June 2020,  it exploded in this town and we ran non-stop for the rest of the year” — resulting in the tire dealership’s best year on record. 

Edwards says consumers found off-roading to be a safe, socially distant activity. People flocked to Arches National Park and in a matter of months, the town of Moab, which depends on tax revenues to balance its budget and provide city services, went from fearing a deficit of $5 million to being back in the black.

During those rough months, Grand Tire Pros maintained its entire staff. Edwards says he also worked to expand the business’ foothold in the commercial tire market. 

He describes commercial tires as “a growing business for us.” As it stands, the store has a 60%/40% mix of retail and commercial.

Edwards has worked at the dealership for nearly 30 years and stepped into the store leadership role after Brox retired. 

Before that, Edwards was focused on Grand Tire Pros’ commercial business, and it had always been on his list to place a greater focus on commercial clients. The early months of the pandemic gave him the bandwidth to do it.

Brox died in 2018, and Edwards is proud to say he runs the business the same way his friend did. 

Grand Tire Pros doesn’t offer the typical menu of automotive services — no oil changes and nothing under the hood. “It’s from the top of the tire down — shocks, struts, brakes, alignments and lift kits.”

While not every independent tire dealership performs automotive services, the vast majority — 83%, according to MTD research — provide oil and filter changes. But Edwards says he isn’t — and Brox wasn’t — worried about that.

“I question how tire dealers can survive doing oil changes. Chip embedded that deep in my brain.”

He remembers Brox telling him that “there is somebody better at that than we are. You do what you do, be the best at what you do and let somebody else be the best at something else.”

“When someone walks in, the first thing we ask them is, ‘What do you do with your car or truck? Are you taking it to the backcountry?’” says Jeff Edwards, manager of Grand Tire Pros in Moab, Utah, which specializes in light truck tires.

 

On a record pace

What Grand Tire Pros is great at is selling tires. The store’s doors open at 8 a.m. and a half-hour later, Edwards says there are typically 30 tickets on the counter and half a day’s worth of business ready to go.

The dealership’s 12-person staff works from three “official” service bays, but does just as much work outside in the parking lot as indoors. Most of the company’s growing commercial tire business work is completed off-site.

Managing tire inventory is always a tricky art, says Edwards. The shortage of supply from tire manufacturers has added another layer of difficulty.

Moab is located in a remote area. As Edwards puts it, “Moab isn’t the end of the earth. It’s just where you go to look off the edge!”

The closest tire distribution center is owned by American Tire Distributors Inc. (ATD) and is about 120 miles away in Grand Junction, Colo. ATD provides the store with daily delivery and Edwards augments that with his own warehouse and inventory that ranges in value from $1.5 million to $2.2 million. 

He believes that the warehouse — which is just as large as his retail store — has been a key to succeeding in the last year.

He’s had tires shipped to him via Federal Express, only to have them land in a rural route pile in Salt Lake City and take a month to deliver.

Edwards says his best inventory management tool is the company’s sales protocol and good-better-best recommendations. “If you stick to the tire companies that you do business with, they’ll take care of you. At least they have with me.”

Grand Tire Pros is a longtime Michelin and BFGoodrich dealer and Edwards says he can count on Michelin North America Inc. to provide him with the products he needs. 

Every year before the Easter Jeep Safari, Michelin scours warehouses and ships the light truck tires he needs to have in inventory. 

The store also sells a lot of Cooper-brand and Hercules-brand tires. He participates in both of those brands’ programs

Because of  some supply issues, Edwards says it’s been harder to stick to the company’s sales process. So when he sees products available in his online ordering portals, he buys them. 

“I get online and if see 285/70R17s are available, I better buy 24 of them.”

He’s also added two more brands to the list — Yokohama and Falken — and has seen growth with both.

Widening the net of tire brands can shift units from one label to another and Edwards says it then becomes harder to hit program numbers with any of the brands. But so far this expansion has worked.

“We’ve been lucky enough that we’ve had two banner years.”

Grand Tire Pros is already on track to beat its record sales year of 2020. 

By late-August, the company’s sales were closing in on $2 million, well ahead of the $1.8 million it recorded as of the end of September 2020. 

Grand Tire Pros has trained locally-owned rental car companies to swap tires whenever they buy a new vehicle. The P-metric tires come off and light truck tires are installed. Vehicles from local fire, police and sheriff’s departments all do the same, says Jeff Edwards, the dealership’s longtime manager.

 

LT tire trends

Light truck tires account for half of the company’s retail sales on a monthly basis. 

Edwards says he sells twice as many light truck tires as passenger car tires in any given month. 

Much of that has come as more consumers have turned trucks like the Ford F-150 into their daily drivers.

More recently, he’s seen a boom in Subarus with lift kits and light truck tires. The Falken WildPeak A/T Trail is big there, but other brands have followed suit with all-terrain offerings for CUVs. (MTD covered this trend in its August edition.)

“Last year, I would keep one or two sets in stock. Now I stock three tires in every size I can get my hands on because that is a booming market I see in my neck of the woods. 

“Colorado is a hop, skip and a jump from Moab and you go to Colorado and all you see are Subarus. We see tons of them. That market is exploding.”

All-terrain tires are his biggest seller, though he does sell a fair share of mud-terrain tires. He doesn’t do much business with rugged-terrain tires.

Proximity to Moab doesn’t automatically mean Edwards’ consumers are hyper- educated tire buyers. 

He says some drivers come in thinking they know exactly what they want or need. 

But the problem is their research has been confined to an internet forum thread, so the Grand Tire Pros sales team has to re-educate these customers.

One trend that his area has largely avoided is what he calls the “mall crawlers” — those drivers who never venture off the highway, but want the beefiest-looking tires they can buy.

“When someone walks in, the first thing we ask them is, ‘What do you do with your car or truck? Are you taking it to the backcountry?’” 


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