When COVID cabin fever set in and you couldn't go to a restaurant, a movie or a baseball game, many Americans took to the outdoors through travel, watersports, camping and DIY and lawn projects.
The Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, for instance, reported that RV shipments in the U.S. in July were up 53.5% over July 2019, and a recent study of 22 states by Statistical Surveys Inc. shows boat registrations are up around 44% year-over-year.
The specialty tire industry has seen its fair share of challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The success — or failure — of the year really depends on the segment being examined.
There were big drops in manufacturing and construction is down, but there also has been an upside as more people are pursuing outdoor activities and road travel.
"In fact, certain segments in which we operate are having a record year for demand as our products are incorporated into many different social-distancing activities. These activities include such things as ATV trail riding, boating and RV, lawn and garden activities," Laren Harmon, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Carlstar Group L.L.C., told Tire Business recently.
Carlstar — better known for its Carlisle and Cragar brands — is a global supplier of specialty tires and wheels serving the agricultural, industrial, lawn and garden and powersports markets.
When a large number of tire makers around the world idled plants for around two weeks in February and March as a safety precaution, so did these companies' OEM customers.
The production time lost just can't be made up. In some cases, tire producers haven't been able to return to full capacity because of the lull in OEM.
The aftermarket, by contrast, has done surprisingly well — at least in some categories.
Specialty tire wholesaler Gallagher Tire Inc. had a record month in June, and owner J.P. Gallagher said it has been very busy since.
"We're up across the board on all ag tires, which has been fantastic," Mr. Gallagher noted.
While construction segments have been sluggish this year — and that could spill into the first half of 2021 — as local and federal projects may have been put on hold during the pandemic or funding was diverted because of it, there still is reason to optimistic for 2021.
Messrs. Harmon and Gallagher said they believe the popularity of outdoor activities — and the need for tires related to those segments — will continue to grow next year. Ag has generally been strong, or at least stable this year, and that should continue.
And, barring any more shutdowns, OEM will come back next year, too.
There is a sense that the worst is behind the industry.
And really, after 2020, the only direction to go is up.