Despite high gas prices, boaters are expected to descend upon the country's marinas in droves this summer-and bust up trailer tires all along the way.
That's good news for the few tire dealers out there who stock small trailer tires and have them on hand when boaters are desperate to fix the problem and hit the water.
Bob Graham, co-owner of Tri County Tire in Oregon, Ohio-situated near Lake Erie and state parks as well as southeast Michigan-serves a market of about 8 million boaters. ``We move a lot of them,'' he said of boat trailer tires.
So far this season he hasn't noticed a drop in recreational boating because of gas prices. In fact, the boating industry expects 94 percent of boaters will be out in full force this summer. The National Marine Manufacturers Association predicted 57 percent of boaters' vacation plans will be affected by gas prices, but they're planning on cutting dining out and driving more than their boating time.
``I don't know how they're doing it, but they're all in the lake today so it's been very good,'' Mr. Graham told Tire Business shortly before the Memorial Day weekend.
He added that high fuel prices and the economy are keeping boaters, RVers and other travelers from replacing their trailer tires just for age. ``They're going to keep chancing it until they blow one out,'' he said.
Because most of the trailer tire business comes from flats, Mr. Graham said it's very important to have the tires in stock. His tire inventory-about 100 to 200 tires at a time-is expensive and a challenge to maintain, but it pays off when he's the go-to dealer for boaters and other travelers anxious to head back to the water or the highway.
``You got to have it, and you got to have it now,'' he said.
Greg Burt, general manager of Tire Wholesalers Inc. in Troy, Mich., said the inventory is critical, but so is actually letting potential customers know the dealership sells small trailer tires.
``That's the biggest thing-getting people to know you've got it,'' he said.
Mr. Burt said the under-the-radar specialty tire business can be beneficial to dealers who choose to invest in it. ``It's an opportunity for a dealer to make a higher margin than he's used to on car tires.''
Scott Nelson, owner and president of Bridgewater Tire Co. Inc. in Bridgewater, Mich., said he doesn't advertise his trailer tire stock, but he also doesn't advertise much at all-instead relying on loyalty and word of mouth. That still works, as he was one of Tire Wholesalers' top buyers last year, he said.
Shumaker Tire Co. in Golden, Mo., doesn't market small trailer tires exclusively, but they're often combined with ads for lawn and garden tires, said Vice President Mark Shumaker.
For the family-owned company that operates wholesale and retail businesses, offering the specialty tires is a ``facet of offering complete service,'' he said. And, by extension, other tire dealers and consumers consider Shumaker Tire regardless of the kind of tire needed, he added. The dealership offers everything besides off-the-road tires and retreads.
``The more things we offer, the more apt they are to call us,'' Mr. Shumaker said.
Mr. Graham at Tri County Tire said the same advantage works for him. He sells car, light truck, farm and truck tires as well as specialty tires. The latter category-including lawn and garden and go cart tires-represent about 10 percent of his business. He sells primarily Carlisle, Goodyear and some Titan specialty tires.
``They call us anyhow because they know we handle everything,'' he said, adding he sometimes wholesales the tires to other dealers.
His customers are fairly split between regulars from his area and travelers drawn to him out of necessity. One man from West Virginia bought a new trailer tire from Tri County Tire after blowing one on a fishing trip and liked it so much that he drove back later for the other three, Mr. Graham said.
``So it's kind of cool (that he) drove four hours like that,'' he said. ``...But we are pretty fortunate with that type of tire in this area, and that's the main reason why we do stock them.''