In the world of wheelbarrow tires where brands have virtually no equity among consumers, Carefree Tire L.L.C. hopes to distinguish itself and charge a premium price to boot.
South Gate-based Carefree is a wholly owned subsidiary of Arnco Inc. that sells flat-free tires for materials handling and lawn and garden equipment and wheelbarrows. The subsidiary historically had gone the industrial route, selling to professionals. But in 2000, it got an unexpected surprise after it was named a ``buy of the week'' in Parade magazine.
``That Monday we had 600 phone calls-from consumers, a market we totally ignored,'' said Bill Hory, general manager of Carefree. ``It didn't take a rocket scientist to say, `Hey, maybe we've ignored this consumer market for the wheelbarrow tire.'''
Carefree tires-though not usually sold under that brand name-since have appeared in the stores of home improvement giants Home Depot Inc. and Lowe's Companies Inc., but the company is now beginning a new strategy to sell direct to consumers online as well as tap traditional tire dealers. Mr. Hory said at least 3.5 million wheelbarrow tires are sold every year, and about 35 percent of those are from the replacement market. Carefree's annual specialty tire sales are about $4 million, he said.
Carefree's recurring battle is charging a higher price compared with pneumatic tires. Mr. Hory said he tries to impress upon consumers that the tires are the last wheelbarrow tires they'll ever have to buy. In the general market, Carefree has a ``push and pull'' philosophy: pushing the original equipment makers to use the products by pulling in the aftermarket as proof of its sales potential.
He said the practice is creating markets that essentially didn't exist, yet it's a necessity for his business. ``Right away I knew that we couldn't ever, from a marketing standpoint, try to compete against a pneumatic tire,'' he said, citing the price difference. ``We'd lose every time.''
For consumers, Carefree plans to redesign its Web site within a month to make it more consumer-friendly. A plan to offer colorful tires-in red, blue, yellow and green-also has gained momentum in the past year. Mr. Hory said the colors are a way to create distinction in the eyes of consumers, who aren't receptive to brand names in this market.
``If, at the end of the day, they say, `I want to buy that red tire,' if my product's known as the red tire, I don't care, as long as they call it out,'' he told Tire Business.
Carefree hopes to add colors to its line of dolly tires within nine months.
The company's interest in tire dealers also is with the aim of reaching previously untapped markets. Mr. Hory said the wheelbarrow tires can become an impulsive buy when consumers head to a local tire store for some car tires. He said he'd even heard from customers who bought the tires as gifts for Father's Day and even Valentine's Day. ``(Tire dealers) are becoming a nice source of distribution for us,'' Mr. Hory said.
Carefree is tapping into Arnco's dealer channel and sales resources, though the subsidiary has an internal employee dedicated to specialty tires for tire dealers. Carefree is offering tire displays to dealers for opening orders, hoping to tap into that ``impulsive'' tendency.
Mr. Hory said traditional tire dealers make up 10 percent of his customer base, and his goal is to increase that to 25 percent within 18 months.
While Carefree is having some success with wheelbarrow tires, Mr. Hory has visions of expanding the same ideas to other tires, especially for lawn and garden and golf and utility carts.
Carefree has designed and tested tires to fit riding lawnmowers sold by retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., but the company is working to get them to the market. Mr. Hory expects them to start reaching consumers in about a year, first in black with colors possible for the future. Tire dealers also will be a distribution point for these tires, he added.
While he has opened new markets, Mr. Hory said he is trying to be careful to not abandon Carefree's roots.
``We have always been going to the normal industrial channels, but now we're having some consumer crossover appeal,'' he said. ``So we're trying to find a way to absorb that without it getting too messy.''