Trailer tires carry big returns: Dealers cash in by having niche product available

Nov. 1, 2004

In most circles, recreational trailer tires and the word "exciting" are rarely used in the same sentence. But recreational tires and the term "highly profitable" are often used together -- especially among tire dealers who understand the niche´s nuances.

Frederick, Md.-based Donald B. Rice Tire wholesales primarily Denman trailer tires to thousands of accounts, ranging from mom-and-pop outlets to large retailers. And Bobby Johnson, the company´s vice president of major accounts, makes a lot of that business happen. He´s been selling trailer tires for years and knows not only what his wholesale customers want, but also what their customers want as well. Availability is more important to trailer tire end users than price, according to Johnson. "This is not a price-sensitive segment of the market."

Most end users buy trailer tires in sets of two and four, he says. The tires rarely wear out from usage.

The average trailer owner wants to hitch up and hit the road right away and is not particularly interested in spending hours on a hunt for replacement tires, he says.


Getting better

Trailer tires are seasonal items, according to Mike Bryant, government sales and national account sales manager for Lexington, Ky.-based S&S Firestone Inc. "We get bombarded between April and September," he says. "People are moving boats in and out of the water or moving from one lake to another."

S&S Firestone sells Denman, Titan, Goodyear, Carlisle and Mastercraft brand trailer tires, "plus some offshore stuff." The dealership´s trailer tire sales climbed earlier this year when consumers who bought trailers two or three years ago began buying replacement tires.

Popular replacement sizes include ST205/75R14 and ST225/75R15 in an eight-ply configuration; the latter size has emerged as a particularly fast mover, says Bryant. "We´ll order 300 or 400 at a time and they never last (in the store). It seems like you can never order enough."

Another popular size is ST235/85R16 in a 14-ply configuration, according to Johnson. Both he and Bryant report that more trailer tires are coming from the factory with higher ply ratings -- a necessity since end users are hauling heavier loads than in the past. Owners also have an unfortunate tendency to overload their trailers.

Bryant thinks manufacturers are building the tires knowing that customers overload them -- and not just with boats and related equipment. More people are using trailers to haul ATVs, he says. "The ATV market has just gone crazy!" He´s also seen an increase in the number of landscapers who use trailers to transport their equipment. "The lawn care people really move stuff around."

Like other tires, trailer tires are sometimes used in situations for which they are not intended. "They go places they shouldn´t, like off-road," says Bryant. "If you pull even a little bit off the road, it can tear up a tire´s sidewall. Trailers also tend to drift into emergency lanes so their tires pick up a lot of junk," like stones and debris.

Fortunately, trailer tire construction has improved over the years. "We don´t have as many people complain about their trailer tires blowing out ´for no reason.´"

Construction has gotten better out of necessity, according to Gary Fehrenbach Jr., vice president of Golden State Tire in Escondido, Calif. "It doesn´t behoove a tire manufacturer to produce a product that they´re going to get back."


Don´t be afraid to ask

Fehrenbach says Golden State´s trailer tire sales have been "very good" this year. "We´re seeing a lot of four-door pickup trucks with trailers as opposed to motor homes." (Motor homes are expensive to operate in Southern California due to licensing fees, high fuel costs and other factors.)

Fehrenbach and his father, Gary Fehrenbach Sr., have established Golden State Tire as a "go to" source for trailer tires in their market. "We stock all sizes heavily and have quite a reputation for that." He says local Sam´s Club and Costco outlets frequently refer customers to the 29-year-old dealership.

Fehrenbach admits that once in a while he gets stuck with a trailer tire or size that doesn´t sell. "But if you want to service this segment, you have to be willing to lean into the strike zone."

Golden State carries Cooper, Carlisle, Titan, Greenball and Tireco products.

Misapplications can be problematic in the trailer tire market, according to Fehrenbach. "We see tires that aren´t matched to the trailer. Most dealers don´t ask (customers) enough questions."

Golden State Tire´s sales force tries to avoid that mistake, he says. "First, we evaluate the trailer´s use. Is it a utility trailer? Is it a work trailer? Is it recreational? It´s one thing if a guy is using a trailer to haul trash once a month and a different thing if he´s hauling a boat to the Colorado River.

"When we see a tire that´s eight years old, hardly worn and rotted away, we don´t want to put him with a $135 tire. We try not to oversell."

Mileage is then discussed. "We ask what kind of mileage they expect," says Fehrenbach. "I have customers who routinely travel across the country. I don´t want a customer calling me from the East Coast and saying, ´The tire you sold me has worn out.´ We ask a lot of questions up front and tell customers, ´We have a couple of ways to go with this.´"

The idea is to cultivate repeat customers, according to Fehrenbach. "When I go to sell a tire, I´m going to sell customers what I believe will work for them. If they want to buy tires that will cause problems, they can do it elsewhere."