LAS VEGASBrad Pitt or the Kardashians hawking tires in a Vogue magazine ad?
It could happen if Omni United Pte. Ltd.'s collaboration with Timberland L.L.C., a globally recognized footwear and outerwear brand worn by a variety of celebrities, plays out as expected.
The Singapore-based tire distributor hopes to tie the humble tire to the consumer fashion world with the launch of three lines of Timberland-brand premium passenger and light truck tires into the U.S. market next spring, officials from the companies announced at the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show in Las Vegas, Nov. 4.
Omni United, the owner of the Radar, Goodride, Roadlux and Corsa tire brands distributed in the U.S.not exactly household names among consumershopes to catch consumers' attention with the recognizable Timberland brand name.
We want to bring fashion into the tire market. It's been a successful model in other industries, said Sagra Maceira, an Omni United advisory board member. We want to change the perception of tires with the average consumer. It's a 'want to have' vs. 'have to have' tire brand.
If one views tires as the shoes of a car, the Timberland name brings panache.
There is such a big consumer angle here, G.S. Sareen, CEO and president of Omni United, told Tire Business. When did you last see an advertisement for a tire in a consumer magazine? Did you ever see an ad in Vogue or Harper's Bazaar?
Now you see, once in a while, a Bridgestone ad in Golf Digest.... There is nothing exciting. There are no celebrity endorsements. There are no personalities talking about the product. So there is not a focus on the consumer.
It's being sold on various attributes and so forth, but the consumers don't get it.... So when we go all out, it will be a very strong push on the consumer side, he said.
Omni expects to advertise in consumer magazines and have Timberland retailers as channel partners. Instead of just a set of tires appearing in an ad, Mr. Sareen said, an ad with a celebrity touting the tires will have a little more draw. So we want to use every possible tool that this partnership offers us to draw the consumers' attention to this product and the cause.
He said he envisions tire dealerships that sell Timberland tires offering discount coupons for the purchase of Timberland footwear, and conversely, retailers that sell Timberland footwear offering customers a coupon toward the purchase of Timberland tires.
Omni said it approached Timberland three years ago with the idea of extending a well-known lifestyle brand to the tire category, an approach that has been successful in other industries, such as the eyewear industry. (This reporter is wearing Coach-brand eyeglasses as she writes this article.)
During the last 30 years, Omni contends, the perception of eyeglasses has changed from being purely functional objects to becoming key fashion accessories.
Omni said the Timberland line likely will attract consumers who are looking to make a statement about themselves and their cars since the Timberland brand symbolizes an outdoors lifestyle, a sense of fun and adventure, and a timeless style.
Another aspect of the partnership is the shared vision of environmental responsibility.
Timberland's brand philosophy of being environmentally sensitive resonates with the Omni brand, Mr. Sareen said. The ultimate goal of the partnership is for worn-out Timberland tires to be reclaimed and recycled for use in the manufacturing of the outsoles of Timberland footwear.
Some tire buyers are concerned about where their tires end up at the end of their usable tread life, Omni said.
Timberland Tires provides those customers with the 'brand promise' that special efforts are taken to ensure their tires are recycled at the end of their life, and therefore, an alternative to other tire brands.... This means car owners will now have an alternative when choosing a tire brand that mirrors their values, the tire company said.
Stratham, N.H.-based Timberland, which generates about $2 billion in annual global sales, has built a reputation for being environmentally friendly by using recycled, organic and renewal materials in its shoes and boots.
The company was founded in 1978 and acquired in 2011 by VF Corp., which also owns North Face, Vans, Wrangler, Red Kap and Nautica, among other fashion brands.
The new tires will feature the Timberland name and tree logo, Omni said, and be available in 92 CUV, all-terrain and passenger touring sizes with T-, H- and V-ratings covering 75 percent of the market.
Omni initially is targeting the Timberland tire line for the U.S. market, with plans to launch 21 Timberland Cross CUV sizes in April and add 14 more next September. Fourteen Timberland A/T sizes will debut in July with up to 30 sizes available by March 2016. Timberland Tour sizes will be offered in 2016. Suggested retail prices will range from $145 to $299, depending on the tire type and size.
The tires are being manufactured in the U.S. under contract with Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., Omni said.
After the U.S. launch, the company will look at additional markets and eventually go global, Mr. Sareen said.
For tire dealers, Omni said it is enforcing its Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) policy to help ensure dealer profitability; creating programs for stocking dealers and for preferred installers; and launching a national advertising and promotional plan to leverage the brand loyalty of Timberland customers and translate that into demand for the branded tire at point-of-sale. The tire distributor said it also is developing extensive co-marketing opportunities.
Mr. Sareen told Tire Business he sees this type of cross-marketing as a potential trend in the tire industry.
Instead of just slapping a brand on a tire, he said he wanted to partner with a brand that shares its environmentally conscious philosophy but also has high recognition among consumers.
If you stop a regular guy and ask him to name five tire brands, he would not be able to. But if you ask him to name five fashion brands or shoe brands, he could go on until the cows come home, he said.
In brand recall of Timberland vs. a tire brand, to an average consumer the Timberland brand scores much higher.... These (fashion) brands are consumer brands. Consumers recognize these brands. They walk into the store to buy these brands. Yet with the tire brand situation, you all know the salesperson is influential over what the customer buys, Mr. Sareen said.
Just a few months ago TBC Corp. and wholesaler Harris Tire Co. announced an affiliation with the stars of the popular A&E reality cable TV show Duck Dynasty. The companies introduced the Duck Commander-brand tires featuring the logo of the Duck Dynasty family's business.
Omni's response: Duck Commander tires appear to be simply a licensing/marketing agreement, while there is a ground-breaking and authentic sustainability story embodied in Timberland tires (from design to marketing to process) that is a key differentiating point in the positioning of the brand. When the tread of the tires wears out, the tires will continue to live on, recycled into Timberland footwear.
The Duck Dynasty show and marketing machine frenzy apparently hasn't traversed the oceans because both Ms. Maceira in England and Mr. Sareen in Singapore said they were unfamiliar with the TV show. But Mr. Sareen said he expects such consumer brand affiliations to become a trend in the tire industry.
Omni claims to be the first tire company to pursue co-marketing, noting its association beginning in 2011 with the Breast Cancer Research Foundation with the production of a limited edition Ring of Hope pink sidewall Radar RPX 900 tire. For every pink tire sold, Omni donated $5 to the foundation.
This is not just a...story where we are launching a new brand, Mr. Sareen stressed. This is about two industries collaborating together, with fashion coming into the tire industry,...but on the other side there is a story about the recycle part.
There is the whole story about doing the right thing with the supply chain collecting the tires, recycling the tires to a certain mesh and sending those back to factories to be put into soles of shoes and other applications. There is a whole massive work on that direction, he said.
On our part, we are a very small company. We know we have not made a major difference in world environmental issues, but we want to play our role.
Omni said it is working with its network of tire retailers and tire recycling firms to develop a take-back strategy to separate and collect worn out Timberland tires in the future for processing into crumb rubber for use in Timberland footwear production, rather than other routes, such as fuel, export or landfills.
Omni said it is using a special rubber formulation in the Timberland tires to facilitate the recycling of the tires.
Mr. Sareen said the tire maker has two polymer scientists on staff working on ways to recycle rubber and is coordinating with other researchers and providing grants to find alternate applications for recycled rubber and substitute chemicals in tires to improve their recyclability.
He said once the company gets the research reports, he plans to put them on the Internet for anyone to use. There are multiple green initiatives available to do wonderful things out there. I want to get into that side of things and put it out there.
The collaboration with Timberland and the recycling chain would qualify as a case study, he said. There is the branding side of it. There is the whole logistics side of it. We have been doing this for almost a yeartaking back tires, grinding them up, meshing them, putting them in shoes and testing them in shoes.
The tire recycling effort is expected to begin in 2017 or 2018 when the first Timberland tires sold are expected to wear out and be replaced. The company wants to recover the Timberland tires that were sold and it has established processes with recycling firms to ensure the Timberland tires are sorted and sent to an Omni authorized facility where the ground Timberland tires will be used in Timberland footwear.
It's not just about labeling a tire with 'Duck Dynasty' or 'Mickey Mouse,' it has to be, 'What are you achieving with this?'Mr. Sareen said.
So what we are trying to achieve is we want to do certain things on the right side responsibly.
If you were just talking about the Radar brand or one of our brands, nobody would even look at us. But when you say 'Timberland brand,' we suddenly get some attention, he added.
So we are using that brand, we're piggybacking on that brand, to get some national attention and to get some celebrity endorsements and things of that kind which will help us to pursue a strategy which will be beneficial for everybody.
To reach this reporter: [email protected]; 330-865-6127. Twitter: @kmccarr