Independent tire dealerships have remained the No. 1 distribution channel for replacement tires over the years for a number of reasons, including their willingness to take calculated risks to stay ahead of the competition.
That's why we are applauding Tire Discounters in Cincinnati for its decision to equip all 37 of its stores with nitrogen inflation systems at a cost of ``hundreds of thousands of dollars.''
Tire Discounters is one of only a few tire dealerships in North America to offer its customers nitrogen as an optional inflation gas for their replacement passenger and light truck tires.
It's a risky proposition because adding this service is no sure thing. The equipment is expensive and requires training. And while the value of nitrogen as an alternative to air is well known, it's unproven as to whether this option can attract new business, retain current customers and prove profitable.
Despite these drawbacks, Tire Discounters, along with a handful of other tire dealerships nationwide, have added this service anyway to help them stand out from the clutter of tire retailers.
What makes the idea of offering nitrogen vs. air so intriguing are the benefits the former has over the latter. Because nitrogen molecules are larger than those of oxygen, they diffuse less easily through a tire's sidewall. As a result, tires filled with nitrogen tend to remain properly inflated longer.
In addition, nitrogen disperses heat more quickly than compressed air, resulting in cooler-running tires, which helps make them last longer.
The advantages are obvious. Tires that remain properly inflated experience longer tread life and exhibit lower rolling resistance, improving fuel mileage. Nitrogen also makes tires safer simply by keeping them fully inflated longer. Air-filled tires, in contrast, tend to lose pressure over time, which becomes a problem only because so few drivers check their air pressure regularly.
These characteristics have made nitrogen a popular alternative where consistent pressure is critical, such as in airplane tires and race tires.
Offering nitrogen inflation probably isn't for every tire dealership.
Dealers must commit to selling the concept to consumers and their own employees if they hope to make such an unknown service a success.
That's what Tire Discounters is trying to do. It's purchased the equipment, has been airing radio ads touting nitrogen's benefits and has trained more than 300 of its employees about the product.
Win or lose, this is another example of an innovative independent tire dealer trying a new tactic to stay ahead of the pack.