The tire dealer's business today is extremely competitive with severe pressure on profit margins. But one market segment is booming for dealers and manufacturers alike—that of light truck tires. For tire manufacturers, growth is spectacular in both the original equipment and replacement market. Light truck tire shipments have been growing at a faster rate than passenger tires shipments for several years. This shows the LT tire market will remain strong and its growth is not a ``flash in the pan.''
This is a great opportunity for dealers going after light truck, sport utility and van tire markets. But the potential is not limited just to tires.
With effective merchandising, the market for specialty wheels and related services can become a gold mine. Opportunities for spring replacement, alignments, chassis height and suspension up-grades also are outstanding.
But this business is not there just for the taking—it requires planning and commitment.
As a group, light truck owners are sophisticated customers. So tire dealers had better understand the needs of these discriminating buyers.
Just having the product on hand is not enough to satisfy them. In fact, having a lot of such products is not enough. A great display area is nice to have also—but that alone won't do either.
If your sales staff doesn't understand the light truck tire market inside and out, customers will recognize it immediately and spread the word.
Hiring the right employees is the key. Whether your dealership has one store or hundreds, begin by recruiting, training and retaining a team of light truck specialists.
Many dealers start by examining their staff in search of someone who's really into light trucks and fits the bill. Others go outside to find the right people.
However your recruitment is done, do it with commitment. Successful dealers don't just hire people and forget about them. They convince these new hires that what they do is important to the business.
Make your Light Truck Specialist team stand out. Hats, uniforms or T-shirts can do wonders. Purchase subscriptions to light truck magazines (mailed to their homes) for each team member.
These steps are all important, but we're still not done.
After locating the right people, make a commitment to provide them with continuing training, showroom space, adequate inventory and advancement.
When shopping for suppliers (tires, wheels and accessories) don't just look at their product offerings. Get the Light Truck Specialist team together and examine each company's marketing, advertising and training support. Don't just thumb through it.
It's important to get material and review it carefully, comparing it to others'. It's also important for you to feel comfortable with it. It has to fit into your business and market.
Get product videotapes from suppliers. Send Light Truck Specialist team members to trade shows and conventions so they can stay up to date on developments.
Some Light Truck Specialist dealers sponsor light truck clubs, allowing members to meet at their stores and furnishing refreshments and programs featuring the latest products.
Many other things help bring success in this market. But the key is commitment. Tire dealers who make that commitment not only find success and profits—they have some fun, too.
Mr. Hylton, formerly communications director for the National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association, is now a freelance writer and public relations consultant in Reston, Va.