CLEVELAND (March 15, 2004) — In a land where the all-season tire often appears to reign supreme, peddling a snow tire to a wary customer can be akin to selling a refrigerator to an Eskimo.
Unless there's a couple feet of snow on the ground and the skeptic is calling you from the bank—snow bank, that is—most motorists have been lulled into thinking they can get by on their driving wits and a set of all-seasons. That's where Gary Adamic becomes the painter of a winter snow scene to rival any you'd find on the cover of a Hallmark holiday card.
His scenario, however, is a lot scarier.
The co-owner of Safeway Tire & Wheel Specialists, a retail/wholesale dealership in Cleveland, has often found a way into the hearts and wallets of many a customer with a winter tire sales clincher. It starts off: “If you want to stop four feet shorter than that tractor-trailer that just threw its brakes on in front of you….”
After that, he usually follows with a quick spiel on Bridgestone/Firestone's Blizzak snow tire, capping the lesson with: “This is what you want to go with. It'll turn your car into a four-wheel drive.”
Safeway—a large Bridgestone/Firestone (BFS) customer—handles a variety of snow tires in the Firestone, Bridgestone, Peerless and Michelin brands, with a few Mastercraft as fill-ins, as well. But the Blizzak is by far its biggest seller. Mr. Adamic told Tire Business in the often times harsh environs of Cleveland winters, snow tires practically sell themselves—and the Blizzaks in particular do “because they already have quite a reputation.”
Mr. Adamic, service manager, is the son of the late Ernie Adamic, who founded the dealership in 1949 in an old gas station. A 32-year veteran of the industry—and even longer than that a Cleveland winter survivor—he has found his most eager snow tire purchasers are those who drive high-performance vehicles—the Audis, Porsches, Mercedes. “They still enjoy their car, but have to drive them in the winter,” he said.
“Most people just try to slug it through with all-season tires, and that's always a joke. Those are the ones you always see spun out in the median.”
An unabashed Blizzak promoter, Mr. Adamic said Safeway, which operates three warehouses and one retail location, sells them all over the country. “People call us for them because we always have them. We're one of the big BFS dealers. That's what I have on my vehicle, and I wouldn't use anything else because everything else is a farce compared to that tire.”
But not every vehicle is cut out for a Blizzak, he noted. “Small pickup trucks, Ford and Chevy vans that need extra traction because when they're driving around unloaded they act kind of squirrely in the winter—I'd put on Firestone Winterfire or Cooper Mastercraft snow tires on them.”
Despite arguments in some circles that the continuing advancement of all-season tire technology is killing the winter tire market, Mr. Adamic instead believes “the perception is killing that market. Do I believe all-season tires are so much better in the winter? No. And people still keep lining up in the median and there are people who still can't make it up their driveways all the time.
“I think people believe all-season tires are supposed to get them through four seasons.”
But that's not really the case, he continued. “An all-season is truly a three-season tire. And that's why (tire makers) continue to build winter tires.”
Safeway's snow tire sales this winter have been pretty steady, he reported, though for competitive reasons Mr. Adamic chose not to provide any numbers. “Everything was down last year. People were scared to buy anything until they couldn't move. This year it's probably better. People forget about the economy when they can't go forward, or stop. Then certain things become necessities. People didn't stop eating either (when the economy was bad), did they?”
Because most tire manufacturers build their winter tires in August, Mr. Adamic said his order-planning process includes looking at the original equipment sizes coming on cars from 2001 to 2004. He's found that “people care enough about their cars” in those model years to want to put on sets of snow tires.
“So we look what OE is and go from there.” He also typically bumps up his order about 10 percent annually, based on the previous year's numbers, because “that's what it normally works out to be.”
“We have to make sure we're supplying the car dealers,” Mr. Adamic said, “because they're picking up the most from us, and other tire dealers fill in with us, too.”
The dealership's red delivery trucks riding on custom wheels are a common sight rolling out of Safeway's downtown Cleveland base. They move product to five Ohio counties “and we get them the tire in two hours—there's nobody else who can do that,” he said. “They're not geared for it nor do they probably want the business.”
Selling to car dealerships is “pretty large to our wholesale business,” which accounts for about half of the dealership's revenue, he said. “They don't want to inventory anything. Nobody does because it costs them too much to inventory, even to use their service departments anymore. That's why our service trucks will go there and service them on their own lots.”
Winter tire ordering has always been part science, part weather prognostication with a dose of crystal ball gazing thrown in. Mr. Adamic said Safeway works “pretty tight with tire manufacturers. Send backs? They don't want to hear about that. And we don't do it and they know that, so they work pretty closely with us.”
Buying snow tires on consignment? That's another big “no,” he added.
The dealership's three warehouses are cooled, so if there are a few winter tires left over “we don't worry about tire degeneration,” he said.
With the unpredictability of winter weather—especially in Cleveland, where a “lake effect” snow storm can blow off Lake Erie quicker than you can say “four inches of partly cloudy”—Mr. Adamic plays it safe when advising customers when to have their snow tires removed.
“I'd never tell them to pull them off March 3, for example,” he told Tire Business on a day when the sun was peeking through the clouds, the ground was dry and the temperature approached 50 degrees.
“One year we had the bulk of our snow for the year April 1-4—got 28 inches in four days. I tell everybody to pull them off on tax day, and you won't get caught.”