LAS VEGAS — Don't expect a horde of product launches or other attention-grabbing, consumer-oriented news in the new year from private- and import-brand tire distributor Tireco Inc.
According to Andrew Hoit, vice president of sales and marketing of the Gardena, Calif.-based distributor of the Nankang, Milestar and Westlake brands in North America, Tireco will spend 2020 evaluating a road-hazard program on select tire lines and a 30-day ride guarantee on all lines.
That's hardly flashy for a company that has grown exponentially over the last five years, but dealers take note: Mr. Hoit said the company may implement a "full-blown associate dealer program" for the Milestar brand by midyear.
"It would be huge," Mr. Hoit said in a conversation with Tire Business at the 2019 Specialty Equipment Market Association Show (SEMA) in Las Vegas.
- This story appears in the Dec. 23 print edition of Tire Business.
In the meantime, Mr. Hoit said Tireco will focus on expanding the size range of its existing brands in a bid to enhance the 95% market coverage the company claims all three brands have.
"One might have 93, another 96, but they are all right there in the same amount of market coverage," he said. "They're a little bit different, but they all have the ability to stand alone."
The company used its appearance at the SEMA Show to highlight some of those enhancements. They include:
- Adding a dozen sizes to the Milestar Patagonia X/T extreme all-terrain line, including a 40-inch outside-diameter flotation version to go with 35- and 37-inch SKUs already in the Patagonia family of light truck and SUV tires.
Mr. Hoit said the size expansion, including the 40x13.5R17LT, will bring the Patagonia X/T product offering to 19 sizes by the first quarter, with 29 more sizes scheduled for later in the year.
• Adding a line of Nankang-brand mud-terrain tires, the NK Sport Conqueror M/T-1, to the Nankang portfolio.
The Conqueror is designed to operate in severe on- and off-road terrain, Tireco said, extending the NK Sport family into the outdoor recreational realm that's the domain of many light truck, SUV and Jeep owners.
The initial launch will feature 25 popular OE replacement and aftermarket sizes covering 15- to 20-inch rim diameters, including flotation sizes up to 35 inches tall (outside diameter). Unlike competitors' products, Mr. Hoit said, this product is available with outlined white letters.
Tireco is the exclusive distributor in North America of the Nankang brand, owned and manufactured by Taiwan's Nankang Rubber Tire Corp.
• Offering a new limited mileage warranty on all passenger and light-truck WestLake tires sold in North America, to go into effect in the first quarter.
This warranty — up to 40,000 miles within five years from date of installation — will include the RP18, SA07, SU318, SL309 and SL369 tread patterns. A pro-rated adjustment credit will be provided based on any remaining mileage.
Tireco has handled the Westlake consumer tire brand — owned and produced by China's ZC Rubber Group — in the U.S. since 2012.
Mr. Hoit said most new treads for each brand will be unveiled in 2021.
In the meantime, Tireco — headquartered in a building that once housed Nissan North America Inc. — is focused on building on its growth.
While the privately owned importer/distributor is "super private," Mr. Hoit pointed to several factors that illustrate how it has achieved its growth.
One of the most important, he said, is the brands' online presence.
Under the direction of James Yim, a brand marketing strategist for Garbage Dream and former colleague of Mr. Hoit when both worked at Sumitomo Rubber Industries Inc.'s Falken brand, the brands' websites help differentiate the products.
That helps, Mr. Hoit said, when a distributor suggests, for example, a Milestar product to a consumer who isn't familiar with the brand.
"If you look at quality of (our websites), we are on par with second- or first-tier brands, from the imagery, from the functionality, from the looks. So, if my distributor can send those links (to a consumer) to look at, it helps to sell the product.
"For a consumer who hasn't heard of us, they're going to Google us. ... We have a very strong online presence for all three brands — Milestar and Westlake will stand out first, but Nankang is really growing."
Another plus, he said, is Tireco's family ownership that dates back to the company's beginning in 1972. That lineage, he said, helps Tireco relate with family-owned wholesalers, including Capital Tire Inc. (Toledo, Ohio); Blacks Tire Service Inc. (Whiteville, N.C.); Community Wholesale Tires Distributors Inc. (St. Louis); Belle Tire (Allen Park, Mich.); and Town Fair Tire (East Haven, Conn.).
"We have ownership that is very hands on, very down to earth, genuine people that participate in the business," Mr. Hoit said. "It brings credibility to the relationship side of the business, because we do what we say we're going to do. Manufacturers who are publicly held have to report to the shareholders, and they have boards they have to answer to. Sometimes that unfortunate reality creates bad behaviors.
"We don't have that burden. We are going to stay for the long haul and be disciplined in how we go to market and how we handle our price position and our conflict."
Last, but certainly not the least, of these factors is offering a quality product at a reasonable price, Mr. Hoit said. In fact, he considers Milestar, Tireco's flagship brand, a Tier 2 product with a very broad portfolio.
He pointed to Milestar's Patagonia X/T, a tire for an emerging segment.
"If you look at our book of business, any distributer, any brand, any manufacturer, would be thrilled to have the portfolio that we have," he said. "We have the luxury of three standalone brands."
Mr. Hoit said tariffs on Chinese goods had disrupted production of Milestar's medium-truck tire, but the product line since has been relaunched. Rather than shift production to another country, Mr. Hoit said the tire still is produced in China but will have a higher price point.
"We wanted to stay relevant in that space," he said.
Mr. Hoit said Tireco's future is bright.
"We have a lot going on," he said. "It's an exciting time to be here."