Tire construction, vehicle design, highway driving and motoring economy have all combined to make tire selling an extremely complicated and highly exacting undertaking. It calls, first, for the correct selection of the product and, second, for its skilled fitting, balancing, alignment and maintenance by qualified personnel throughout its service life.
This cannot be adequately supplied by mass merchandisers or warehouse clubs. The natural supplier of these services is the tire specialist.
Nonetheless, warehouse clubs are a growing factor in the marketplace and are not a passing fad. There will always be customers for whom price is the main consideration and others for whom service is most important.
Warehouse club sales growth has been mind-boggling, leaping from $900 million 10 years ago to more than $50 billion this year. They number over 800 stores today in the U.S. and Canada, with new stores popping up everywhere. Their tire sales claim more than 8 percent of the market today.
Where are the chances for the tire specialist? Why should people buy tires from a tire specialist instead of one of the warehouse clubs? To find an answer, we must go back a few years into the history of our business.
Prior to and after World War II, tires were all bias-ply construction with limited tread life and replacement tires were in brisk demand. Selling tires was like selling coffee. Service costs were comparatively low with little specialization needed.
With limited tread life plus growing numbers of vehicles on the road and ever-increasing total mileage per car, there were plenty of repeat sales.
But a downturn was inevitable.
This change in merchandising tires came about unexpectedly and it can be said that the following factors contributed to end the lively sale of tire replacements: 1) The radial tire's radical construction with its effect on tread life as well as the notable changes in automobile design; 2) The vastly improved highway network and the growth of interstate highway travel; and 3) The oil crisis which caused more expensive motoring and paved the way for an economic downturn.
As front-wheel drive became common for popular cars and permitted lighter, faster and more sensitive vehicles, the tire assumed a more important role as a fundamental element influencing vehicle performance.
The day of free-for-all selling came to an end and the era of the ``tire specialist'' began.
The modern radial tire is a highly technical product-the result of extensive research and precision manufacturing. However, all this can become meaningless by careless or unskilled service when the product finally reaches the user.
This is where the tire specialist comes into his own, fulfilling a role of vital importance which cannot be effectively replaced by mass merchandisers or warehouse clubs.