It's a market no one really gives much thought to-unless they're a part of it-nor is it a growing industry.
Yet dealers involved in selling and servicing forestry tires say their niche is no different from other sectors of the tire industry that demand quality products and top-notch service.
Two dealers interviewed by Tire Business-at Jake's Quality Tire Inc. and Colony Tire Corp.-both say they are committed to the forestry tire market even though the sector's prospects for growth is stymied by environmental regulations on logging companies and paper mills as well as cheaper lumber from overseas.
The past four years especially have been difficult for U.S. producers as demand for pulp and other products is down and many paper mills have slowed production or closed, said Jeff Wilson, marketing manager for the Firestone Agricultural Tire Division of Bridgestone/Firestone.
In addition, the federal government doesn't allow loggers to cut on certain tracts of land because environmental activists don't want the trees cut, according to Mark Jacobson, president of Jake's Quality Tire in Duluth, Minn.
``(Loggers) can't tear up the ground anymore...they have to be environmentally aware of what they're doing, so they can only log at certain times of the year,'' he explained.
That, along with pricing pressure from foreign competition has caused consolidation among loggers, said Chauncey Krahenbill, vice president of Edenton, N.C.-based Colony Tire's region covering Virginia and parts of the Carolinas.
``(Pricing) is really thinning out some of the logging customers we got,'' Mr Krahenbill said. ``Most of the customers we deal with today are pretty strong but probably a couple years ago there were twice as many loggers.''
With those types of market conditions to work with, loggers are looking to cut costs, especially on tires. A new tire for a skidder or processor easily can cost $2,000 and repairs run $200 to $500, Mr. Jacobson said. And unlike other off-the-road tires, forestry tires take more abuse from the environment they work in because they go ``over stumps and rocks and whatever's there in the woods, so they have to be quite a bit stronger than OTR tires,'' he said.
Mr. Krahenbill noted that forestry tires today also require substantial flotation to avoid rutting up the ground. When a tire does fail, going to the job site to change or repair the tire is ``intense type of work''-but like that done at mining operations, it requires only one person with a service truck equipped with a crane, he said.
``Not a whole lot of people in the tire industry are like us because it's pretty tough conditions to go out and work on and work in,'' Mr. Krahenbill said.
In repairing forestry tires, he said most of the time a service tech needs to take the tire off the equipment, cut out the part that was punctured and perform a section repair.
The forestry tire segment represents only 2 to 3 percent of Colony Tire's annual sales, but the dealership remains committed to that end of the business, he said, noting that the company's OTR business in 1976 began with the forestry sector before expanding to rock quarries. The 26-outlet dealership services all segments of the tire industry, he said, and offers Firestone, General, Nokian and Primex forestry brands.
At Jake's Quality Tire, Mr. Jacobson said his forestry tire sales have increased since he started offering Nokian products. He's had fewer service calls and adjustments with the tire, which now comprises 95 percent of his product offerings.
Founded in 1984 by Mr. Jacobson's father, the single-store dealership has 400 logger customers in Minnesota, northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
He has four service trucks that he sends out in those areas daily and also distributes Nokian forestry tires to dealerships in the region.
The store posts $3 million in annual sales-25 percent of which is from forestry tire sales. The rest of Mr. Jacobson's business is passenger, light truck, medium truck and OTR tires.
Although the forestry market is a tough one to service, he is optimistic about future business.
``I think there's always going to be a need for the forests. We're always going to need the lumber. There's always going to be a need for forest products.
``As long as there's a need for forest products, I see the forestry industry lasting,'' Mr. Jacobson said.