``ATV enthusiast seeks knowledgeable tire dealer.''
This could be a personal ad running in any local newspaper. It's a limited niche market, but small specialty tires can be profitable for dealers who publicize the little known fact that they stock them.
In general, small specialty tire sales have been described as fair to flat this year with the economy, tire price hikes and rising gas prices having some negative impact.
Much like the thriving tuner tire market, though, those factors don't seem to deter recreational enthusiasts. They just need to know where to look for their tires.
``Consumers don't know where to go for tires,'' said Scott Griffin, national specialty tire sales manager for Maxxis International. ``Dealers should make sure in their tire ads to tell that, `In addition to passenger tires and truck tires, we sell trailer tires, too.' And people will come.''
Mr. Griffin believes customers don't shop around for specialty tires the way they do for car tires. ``They look for where they can get good service.'' That presents an ``excellent opportunity'' for dealers to garner a higher profit margin by carrying these tires, he said.
``Generally, specialty tires offer a decent margin compared with passenger, light truck and commercial tires,'' said Jeff Waechter, director of aftermarket sales for Carlisle Tire & Wheel Co.
Apparently many tire dealers have come to realize this because Messrs. Griffin and Waechter said they have seen a growing number of dealers selling small tires.
``Dealers are looking for ways to grow their business. This is a great way to grow it and grow it profitably,'' according to Mr. Waechter.
He said he would suggest dealers ``make sure they have some information that tells consumers they have these tires available and increase a limited line of inventory of common sizes.''
To assist dealers, Carlisle is launching a ``certified dealer'' program to help dealers raise consumer awareness of where they can find Carlisle tires, such as its lawn and garden, ATV, trailer and agricultural tire lines, as well as wheels. The program, which will be rolled out in June, will provide outdoor signage, tire display stands and a dealer locator system on the company's Web site.
The certified dealer program aims to increase consumer awareness of Carlisle dealer locations. ``We feel the consumer has trouble finding specialty tires. This helps support the independent dealer,'' Mr. Waechter said. He predicted that a customer coming to a dealership to buy tires for his sport-utility vehicle will notice signage showing the dealership also sells tires for his ATV. ``It's a good tool for dealers,'' he added.
Maxxis also finances ad campaigns that urge consumers to ask about the various types of tires available at their local dealership.
It also helps if a specialty tire brand has original equipment (OE) fitments.
``Carlisle has a large presence as an OE supplier and when people replace their tires, they usually go with the Carlisle brand,'' Mr. Waechter said. However, he added that consumers also are doing more research on the Internet and looking for where to find particular tires.
``That is why we are doing the (dealer) locator on our Web site. Consumers are becoming very sophisticated in doing research.''
Overall the small specialty tire market has been faring well despite the economy, according to some in the industry.
``The increase in tire prices doesn't seem to affect sales. The prices (of small tires) are not that high to start with,'' said Wilson Beach, director of sales for the Tire Industry Association.
Rising gas prices have some negative impact on the recreational tires as some RV owners take fewer trips to the lake and some ATV riders take fewer joyrides, according to Mr. Waechter. But industrial trailer tires are necessary costs companies incur because they can't afford the downtime.
Messrs. Griffin and Beach observed that gas prices haven't deterred the enthusiasts from enjoying their hobbies. RV/ATV enthusiasts are still rolling along in the face of rising gas prices. ``There will be RVs on the road as long as (gas) is available,'' Mr. Beach said.
On the manufacturer side, the small tire market is experiencing more competition with price increases, different ways of manufacturing and companies entering new markets, Mr. Griffin said.
Another trend is that since trailers and boats are getting bigger, they need tires with higher load capacity, noted Mr. Griffin. So, more heavy-duty, 8-ply tires are being produced to replace 6-ply tires.