Odd size in: Want a trailer tire? Fred and Eric Harz probably have it
Fred Harz & Son Inc., a tire retailer/wholesaler based in Elmer, N.J., that dates back to 1922, bills itself as the home of the "odd size" tire. That designation includes tires for recreational trailers, commercial-use trailers and RVs.
"If we run into a size we haven't seen before, we'll put some in stock," says Eric Harz, who operates the company along with his father, Fred Harz Jr. "Someone will ask for it sooner or later.
"A lot of our wholesale business is built around the fact that a customer needed that odd size he couldn't afford to stock.
"And we have end users who regularly drive over an hour to buy an odd size from us. If somebody is really stuck, they'll think of us!"
When asked to cite an odd trailer tire size, Harz uses 235/80x16 as an example. "When I first heard about it, I thought someone had made a mistake. This size is very hard to get and very expensive, but sure enough, I'll get a call from a customer who needs to have it."
Coming up with odd sizes can be an adventure, according to Harz. He looks for them everywhere.
"We'll search them out. We buy tires directly from Europe. We've searched others by brand and we'll contact the manufacturer directly. And there are a couple of dealers across the country who are like us; I'll call them and they'll say they have a particular size in stock. Then we'll trade back and forth."
Carlisle remains the dealership's primary trailer tire brand. He also imports a lot of trailer tires from Asia. He has seen a trend toward customers buying imports. "They want to save money," says Harz.
He started seeing a large influx of Asian-made trailer tires about four years ago. "It's gotten to the point where offshore tires are about half of the volume across the market," he says. "Customers aren't as brand-oriented as they once were."
Some of the odd size trailer tires that Harz buys will sit in one of his warehouses for a long time. Fred Harz & Son - which also sells passenger, light truck, medium truck, farm and other tires -- has eight warehouses; four of them stock trailer tires.
"The normal thinking is 'turnover, turnover, turnover, you need to have what moves.'" That's not always possible in the specialty trailer tire business, which can occasionally lead to complications, he explains.
Years ago, Harz had to send a financial statement to a bank in order to help out a supplier who had fallen on hard times.
The bank told Harz he would never receive a credit line of more than $10,000. "They saw the size of our inventory versus our sales and said, 'You're not turning enough product.'
"We have turnover. But we recognize that to keep our niche, we have to carry certain items that aren't going to turn that quickly."
In an attempt to balance things out, Harz will sometimes charge extra for slow-moving tires. "Size 235/80x16 is very rare. I hardly make one sale a month."
He notes that it's important to track trailer tire inventory, even slow movers.
"We're loading up a new MaddenCo computer system right now. It will give us a better breakdown of what we have and what's selling."
Spring and summer constitute the heavy selling season for trailer tires. "That's when the construction business starts to roll and people bring in their trailers that have sat all winter." Recreational trailer owners follow suit.
Sales tend to drop off in the fall and plummet during the winter months, though the most recent winter was a notable exception. "Winter didn't start off as severely as it normally would. We went through the winter without a drop in sales. February, for example, is always dead; this year it held up really well."
When you operate in niche markets and, in Harz & Son's case, pursue a niche within a niche, it takes years to establish yourself, according to Harz. "If you're well-enough known to have that inventory, then you can make that sale."
A fresh start-up "would have to do an awful lot of advertising. I don't know if that would be economically sound.
"I get calls from customers who say, 'I had five different people recommend that I come to you,'" he says. Even trailer dealerships regularly send customers to him. "These companies have quit selling tires. They don't consider it to be profitable enough."
That suits Fred Harz & Son just fine. The company welcomes the additional business.
Needs vs. price: Use determines willingness to spend, says Harz
How much trailer tire buyers are willing to spend depends on the way they intend to use their tires.
Customers who use their trailers to haul heavy equipment and perform other commercial applications typically want better-quality tires.
"They buy whatever we recommend," says Eric Harz, co-owner of Fred Harz & Son Inc. in Elmer, N.J.
"But then they will hold me to it. The tire I recommend better do the job!" he says with a chuckle.
On the other hand, recreational trailer owners tend to opt for less expensive tires. The same goes for RV drivers, says Harz.
"RV tires are hardly driven. Most RV tires we see are dry-rotted. They're dead from age, not dead from wear. If a customer uses a tire that seldom, they buy what's cheapest."