AKRON (Dec. 19, 2003) — Recent heavy snowfalls in the Northeast have made some tire dealers very merry this December as customers desperate for snow tires have been cramming into their stores.
“Business has never been better.…We love winter disasters,” declared a jubilant Barry Steinberg, president of Watertown, Mass.-based Direct Tire & Auto Service.
“We've been bombed,” said Don Lufgren, service manager of Mass Tire and Auto Service in South Weymouth, Mass. “We can't move, and we're overwhelmed with business here.”
Several dealers reported their stores were filled to capacity since a “Nor'easter” storm system dumped as much as six inches of snow in upper New York state and up to two feet of snow in parts of New England earlier this month. Mr. Steinberg said business was “non-stop” between Dec. 4-10, and three of Direct Tire's four locations stopped taking cars by mid-morning.
One customer called Direct Tire and said she couldn't get her Nissan 350Z out of her parking spot, and Mr. Steinberg said he suggested she have it towed to his dealership, which she did.
“It was great,” Mr. Steinberg quipped. “Anything for your winter tires at Direct Tire.”
At Mass Tire, Mr. Lufgren said the store was dead on Dec. 8 because no one could get around in the snow, but by the next day the store was quickly making up sales for that day and Dec. 6, when the storm hit.
John Quirk, president and CEO of VIP Discount Auto Centers, noted that his 49 locations hit a record sales day on Dec. 5 as people flocked to his stores ahead of the storm to buy snow tires. The following day when the storm hit, VIP “crushed” that record, he said. By Dec. 11, the dealership had sold 15,000 winter tire units, most of which are Power King, Fulda, Michelin and Pirelli brands.
“We had all hands on deck,” Mr. Quirk said, adding that at many of his stores, customers waited four to five hours to get snow tires on their cars.
Norwell, Mass.-based Sullivan Tire Co. Inc. experienced a 25-percent leap in sales compared with the previous weeks after 30 inches of snow fell on its area, according to Paul Sullivan, vice president of marketing. The sales spike from the Nor'easter helped Sullivan Tire post a 30-percent jump in overall tire sales from the same period in 2002, he said.
“Ordinarily, when you get into this part of the year, peoples' incomes are tied up in preparing for the holidays, but they're putting tires on and doing the preventive maintenance for their cars,” Mr. Sullivan said.
Many New Englanders like to drive on back roads to work and escape to weekend ski resorts and are upgrading their traction by buying winter tires as a result, he said. Sullivan Tire operates 60 retail, commercial and wholesale locations throughout New England and is selling Goodyear, Dunlop, Michelin and Kumho winter tires.
Mr. Quirk said the surge in sales of high-performance cars has created a demand for winter tires as motorists realize that their vehicles' suspension systems are so precise that they can't go anywhere in the snow.
“Even if you have front-wheel drive, and you have 16- to 17-inch high-performance tires on them, it's an unsafe condition,” Mr. Quirk explained. “Having four snow tires in particular is what we recommend on all vehicles now. I think the whole industry and the car manufacturers realize that snow tires are making a resurgence because of the way cars are made today.”
In Albany, N.Y., where snow accumulation reached six inches, Paul Gross, owner of Delaware Service, said he recommends snow tires to people who drive performance vehicles, as well, since many only ask for all-season tires. He said many people procrastinate before buying snow tires because “everybody has a busy life”—until a heavy snow reminds them.
Tim Dunn, national operations manager for consumer replacement tires for Bridgestone/Firestone (BFS), said many consumers are learning that their original equipment low aspect ratio high performance tires aren't enough for snow and ice. He also noted that snow and ice tires can improve the performance of four-wheel-drive vehicles—even those with traction control.
“There is also a greater acceptance today of snow tires and their benefits because the technology is beginning to sell itself,” he said.
All of the New England dealers contacted by Tire Business said they had plenty of winter tire supplies and were not running out. Most expected demand for winter tires to remain at a healthy level for the next several weeks.
BFS said its snow tire supplies are still good despite the sales push from the early snow. Mr. Dunn said many dealers have reordered, and the Nashville, Tenn.-based tire maker has been able to supply them.
He called this “the second consecutive strong snow season and with its severity, in certain areas, it has really brought consumers out to seek snow tires.”
The industry shipped 6.28 million snow tires to the U.S. replacement market last year, a 19.2-percent drop from 2001, according to Rubber Manufacturers Association data. Tires designated mud+snow made up 3.3 percent of 2002 replacement shipments, down from 4.1 percent in 2001 and 4.5 percent in 2000.
By contrast, Rubber Association of Canada figures show winter tires represented 27.5 percent of replacement passenger tire shipments there in 2002.
Tire Business Staff Reporters Lisa Aichlmayr and Bruce Davis contributed to this report.