For those in Snow Belt areas, the winter tire season represents a time where the advent of November begins the silly season as winter preparation and new tire sales keep technicians and cash registers happy.
My start in the tire industry dates back to the late 1990s, when I started working for Tire Rack. In fact, my first season in sales even involved groups of salespeople — and owners — coming in on a Sunday afternoon to help mount and balance outgoing steel wheel and tire packages to be shipped out on Monday to meet demand.
I know Tire Rack has come a long way from those days, but it was fun being a part of that process beyond the sale over the phone.
It also helped me see the value in selling a customer on a seasonal winter tire/wheel package changeover. The value proposition being that if, on average, a winter tire lasts "about three seasons," you would justify your higher up-front cost of tires, wheels and covers or inexpensive aluminum wheel set — by doing the math.
Paying an installer $15 to $20 per tire twice a year to dismount, remount and balance could run around $450 for the three-season life cycle.
Whereas you factor the DIY ability to change your own wheel sets as you wish on your own, to many performance-minded customers had a certain value — after all, time IS money too. Plus, you get the added ego boost of being a mechanically inclined fellow.
What I have seen over the years, as our industry has advanced, is a trend toward reduced demand for wheel and tire sets. In the beginning of this decade, you might have argued "the economy" is to blame, but I am not so sure anymore.
With the trend of cars themselves growing in size in recent years, and manufacturers using larger brake kits, we typically see 17-inch tires today as the standard as opposed to 14-inch years ago. And with many OE wheel sets being 18 to 22 inches in rim diameter, the ability to "minus size" down a size or two becomes challenging.
And then there is the tire-pressure monitoring system (TPMS) to contend with. In the early 2000s you could equip a base model BMW 3 series with a 16-inch wheel-and-tire package for around $700 and leverage the DIY value proposition to a customer for a real bang for the buck.
Using the Tire Rack website for a current generation BMW 3 series, the recommended wheel and Pirelli winter tire set in a 17-inch fitment runs $1,154.
The Tire Rack website does not price the TPMS system in that cost, however. (It is an additional $216 to have a separate set added to your package if you don't use your existing ones for changeover, negating the savings.) So, the package now becomes nearly $1,500 to have a set delivered to do it yourself.
It becomes a little harder for many customers to justify the additional cost difference between the set vs. life cycle changeover when the difference isn't that great (greater than $150) over the winter tire life cycle.
And the issue of storage is always a question in many minds. Whether a tire is mounted or not, it takes up garage space to store your set(s) all year long. This, too, presents a solid opportunity for the retailer to win the sale vs. the online experience if you present it properly.