AKRON-Dealers' supplier loyalty has been put to the test as farm tire shortages mount during the industry's longest strike by the United Rubber Workers union. The work stoppage that began in July against Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and limited production at the tire maker's Des Moines, Iowa, farm tire plant to 50 percent of capacity, has created shortages in the replacement market.
Fortunately for BFS, the shortages come during a lull in the farm tire selling season. But some BFS dealers are already building up their inventories for spring and have been looking to other suppliers to fill their orders.
Yet two BFS competitors, Goodyear and Titan Tire Corp., said they have not experienced any measurable increase in their sales or market share in the agricultural market due to the strike.
With the recent hiring of replacement workers, BFS said its Des Moines plant would run on continuous 24-hour operation beginning in mid January and anticipated filling dealers' back orders ``as soon as possible.''
Whether BFS will meet dealer demand is yet to be seen. The farm tire selling season goes into full swing in March.
Some dealers have already courted alternate sources for farm tires. Others are holding out until BFS can fill their orders.
One BFS dealer forced to seek out other suppliers is Wright Tire Service of Anoka, Minn., which hasn't stocked radial rear tractor tires for six months due to the strike, according to Tom Wright.
He said he ordered a couple of hundred tractor tires from another supplier to stock up for the spring selling season. And upon finding other brands competitively priced, Mr. Wright said he hasn't decided if he will continue with another supplier or return to BFS.
``A word to the union,'' he added. ``They will shoot themselves in the foot if they keep this (strike) up. We were 100-percent Firestone and we never explored other avenues until this came about,'' Mr. Wright said.
Meanwhile, Gary Watson's Tire Central warehouse in Urbana, Ill., serves a market that is loyal to Firestone tires. ``A lot (of customers) are willing to wait for Firestone tires,'' he said.
When asked about the status of his farm tire inventory, Mr. Watson replied half-jokingly, ``What inventory?'' Having drained his inventory last fall, he has been selling some Goodyear and private label brands and waiting for his Firestone orders to come in by spring. He surmised he will probably start the season with less inventory than in past years.
Farm tire inventories for Christensen Oil Co. Inc. in Concordia, Kan., have also dropped dramatically, said owner Keith Christensen. The dealership has held out looking for other suppliers, and instead has been filling orders by trading with other dealers.
While the company has lost some sales due to shortages, ``it's not devastating,'' he said, adding, ``if something doesn't happen by spring, we'll have real trouble.''
Terry Santero of Valley Service Center Inc. in Oshkosh, Neb., has been experiencing a different problem-trying to supply new-tractor dealers. While farm tires sales are slow during the winter, he has been trying to outfit dealerships that are receiving new tractors with single rather than dual tires.
Mr. Santero said he is devoted to Firestone and has not shopped around for other suppliers. Having kept in constant contact with BFS, he is expecting a shipment soon.
But he may still come up short on ``oddball'' sizes. Orders for those tires, he said, are usually the last ones to be filled.