MADISON, Conn.-Move over, private branders, and make room for at least one more label whose name may say a lot about its marketer's ambitions. The British company Southam Tyres Ltd. is testing the waters in the U.S. in anticipation of adding its ``Roadhog'' passenger and light truck tires to the al-ready crowded private brand marketplace.
To ascertain dealer interest, the Southam, England-based firm has enlisted the services of Simon Garner, former director of Pirelli Armstrong Tire Corp.'s original equipment tire sales in the U.S., who is working as a consultant to Southam Tyres from his home in Madison.
Mr. Garner said the brand has been marketed in Europe for only about a year. Although the U.S. ``is pretty saturated with private brand tires, we're looking for a niche.'' Based on interest, the company is evaluating launching the brand stateside via one or more independent tire dealerships or wholesalers.
The tires, made by South Korea's Hankook Tire Manufacturing Co. Ltd., are currently available primarily in T- and H-rated European passenger tire sizes-80, 70, 65 and 60 series-plus a couple of light truck sizes.
If U.S. distributors are signed, Mr. Garner said the line would be expanded to ``any size the market wants. If a dealer is interested in a certain size range, we would certainly look at producing those for him,'' including a full range, depending on volumes and purchase commitments. The tires would be distributed in container loads.
Mr. Garner made the rounds at the recent SEMA/AI show in Las Vegas trying to drum up support for the Roadhog brand and admitted there ``weren't any dealers who expressed a substantial interest'' in the tires. It was more of a wait-and-see, ``show us what you've got'' attitude, he said.
Southam Tyres will soon provide him with sample tires to display. ``I can't put my hand on my heart and say we'll go to market on a particular date'' with certain volumes and sizes, he said. ``We're not in the position to go forward with a full marketing program yet'' until interest is gauged.
Because the U.S. market already includes some 150 private brand tire lines, Mr. Garner acknowledged ``finding a niche for another brand is not going to be very easy. We have to identify a unique selling point-something to differentiate our brand from everyone else's.''
But in the large U.S. replacement market, ``you only need a little chunk of that to represent a fair amount of volume.''
He described Southam Tyres as a ``major, fairly aggressive, forward-thinking independent wholesaler/retailer'' operating for more than 20 years in the United Kingdom. It handles all passenger and light truck brands and owns the worldwide marketing rights to the Roadhog brand.
According to Mr. Garner, the company's current chief executive and managing director, Martin Wood, bought Southam Tyres in the late 1980s, and has since ``injected a lot of new marketing ideas and new retailing concepts'' into the firm, which ``has some very loyal dealers and customers under a special dealer program.''
Southam has about 45 company-owned retail outlets, Mr. Garner said, and a number of wholesale distributors. And the company ``is interested in coming to the U.S.''
In addition to the Roadhog brand, Mr. Garner said Southam Tyres would like to determine whether there is any U.S. dealer interest in a computer system the firm markets as part of its dealer support program. The system-developed for multi-outlet dealerships, or outlets that are part of a larger group-offers a number of features, he said, including management control and central billing, not just simple invoicing.
Coming from the world of OE tires, Mr. Garner is experiencing something of a change of pace as he prepares to contact dealers about the Roadhog brand.
After five years in the U.S. with Pirelli Armstrong, he departed in March, transferred to the U.K. by PATC's parent, Pirelli Group. In a restructuring of its office there, he was named director of OE sales. He had previously worked for Pirelli Group for five years.
Mr. Garner and his family nixed relocating to his native England and, consequently, he resigned from Pirelli in October.
While he works on a consultative basis for Southam, he said he's hoping to land a full-time position in the U.S. tire industry.