Some guidance needed... Sport truck fanatics don't always know what they want but have lots of money to spend. Make sure they spend it at your shop

July 1, 2005

Despite their visibility, sport compacts aren't the only lucrative segment of the tuner market. The sport truck segment also offers plenty of profit opportunities for tire dealers who understand the sport truck enthusiast mentality.

"A lot of (sport truck owners) don't even know what tires they have," says Richard Smallwood, vice president of sales and marketing for Falken Tire Corp. "Customers want a package that's going to make them look good. It's not a heavily researched buying decision.

"In fact, in the vast majority of situations, it's the tire dealer who is going to drive the buying decision."

No time to waste

People have been accessorizing pickup trucks for many years, says Phil Pacsi, executive director of consumer tire marketing, Bridgestone Firestone North American Tire LLC.

"There have been several evolutions. The first modifications (consisted of) taking trucks and making them look aggressive and 'off-roady' with large flotation tires.

"Now you have people who are taking the same vehicles and are going with larger rim diameters like 20 inches and 22 inches" for more cosmetically pleasing results.

Sport truck accessories have followed the same trend.


"Before, people went with big shocks, struts and lift kits," says Pacsi. "Now we're seeing more lighting features, running boards and even lowering kits to bring down the ride height."

For sport truck fanatics, "the truck is an extension of lifestyle," says Bill Bainbridge, Hankook Tire America Corp. marketing director.

"And the more a person accessorizes a vehicle, the more propensity there is for larger tires." The most popular sport truck tire/wheel package size is 22 inches, says Riccardo Cichi, vice president of sales and marketing for Pirelli Tire North America Inc. (PTNA). "The prices of 22-inch tires and wheels have decreased, making these packages more accessible."

"Once you get into 24 inches and 26 inches, prices escalate so much it takes most of the public out of the picture," says John Clancy, PTNA ultra-high performance account manager.

Sport truck enthusiasts also prefer tires with low aspect ratios, such as 55-, 50- and 45-series, according to Mark Cherveny, high performance product manager, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. "They don't want 70-series tires with a large sidewall. They want the wheel filling up the wheel well."

As on other vehicles, plus-sizing can present problems if done incorrectly. Replacement tire load ratings must be equal to or greater than the load rating specified at original equipment, warns Clancy. "And if you put more un-sprung weight on a vehicle with a heavier tire and wheel package, it's recommended that you put heavier-duty brakes on."

Smart tire dealers can turn this extra step into a profitable add-on sale, he adds.


Be prepared

In terms of age and other demographic indicators, sport truck enthusiasts and sport compact tuners are similar. But the amount of money they spend on their vehicles differs, according to Art Michalik, director of marketing communications for Yokohama Tire Corp.

"The average light truck buyer spends way more money on accessories than the average car buyer. And it (happens) much more quickly after the (vehicle's) purchase.

"You have to be ready for that individual when he's ready to buy because the window is really small. Customers want to move quickly. They have cash in hand. They don't want to wait two weeks."

Smallwood says the ideal situation is to have most of the common sport truck tire and wheel sizes on-hand. "But retailers can't stock everything. So the local wholesaler needs to make sure he has the products and sizes available."

Just-in-time delivery is a critical component of the sport truck tire supply chain; equally important is having the right mounting and balancing equipment.

"If you damage a 22-inch wheel, that's a lot of money," says Smallwood. "You also need technicians who know what they're doing.

"And you need to have someone at the counter who can talk the language. We've seen instances where dealers had the proper equipment and training but didn't know how to sell the product."


'No guesswork'

New York City-based Ganin Tire Inc. certainly knows how to sell to sport truck enthusiasts. The dealership has made the sport truck segment a key part of its overall success. It started targeting the segment five years ago for a number of reasons.

"Number one, we saw regular passenger and light truck units as (getting) harder to sell," says Ganin Tire co-owner Jeff Zegans.

"There was this vast opportunity doing these bigger tires and wheels. And a lot had to do with my son, Mike, who is young and understands the market."

Ganin, which lists Falken and Pirelli as its main sport truck tire suppliers, aggressively pursues sport truck owners. Earlier this summer, the dealership held its first annual custom car and sport truck show. The event -- which included a DJ who did a live radio broadcast on-site and even a stunt motorcycle team -- drew about 400 people, who came to gawk at 100 vehicles.

Meanwhile, Ganin officials used the show as an opportunity to network with sport truck club members. The event was a success, says Mike Zegans, Ganin Tire's director of high performance sales. "The biggest question I heard after the show was, 'When's the next one?'"

To reach more people, Ganin also advertises in mainstream tuner periodicals, including Dub, a popular magazine.

But no amount of advertising can make up for weak fundamentals, according to Jeff.

"When we went into the (sport truck) business, we thought we'd focus on what we could do well and not do a bunch of things if we could only do them halfway. We're not one of those 'high performance' speed shops.

"If you call my stores, they have 20-inch tires in stock. And if they don't, they can get them the same day from our warehouses. We get great support from manufacturers, who keep us in stock."

"The most important thing is giving (customers) the right size the first time around," says Mike.

"You have to be knowledgeable," Jeff adds. "There is no guesswork."