After a down year in 2009, the trailer tire segment is heading back to its usual pattern of slow, steady growth. In the last decade, sales of trailer tires had grown year-on-year until last year’s economic downturn, where it seems no segment was left unaffected.
As with all discretionary purchases, sales of trailers themselves – whether for livestock, boats or other equipment – saw a decline as consumer and small business budgets tightened. This, of course, trickled down to the tire market, resulting in a decrease in both OE and replacement sales.
However, with trailer sales increasing in the first half of this year, tire sales have already begun to follow, according to Hank Chang, sales manager for Kenda USA. The result has been heavy sales for the tiremaker, as dealers hurry to replenish their stock in order to meet customer demand, he said.
“With the stock market recovering and a continuous flow of upbeat economic news, we expect the economy to recover steadily this year,” says a spokesperson for Maxxis USA. “This should spark the trailer tire segment and our business should grow steadily, as well.”
After a slight dip in years of solid growth, it appears the trailer tire segment is quickly bouncing back. Take a look at the ins and outs of this niche market – one that boasts low inventory, high profit margins and limited competition – to see if carrying trailer tires is a good fit for your business.
The trailer tire segment covers many potential customers, from recreational boat and ATV users to professional landscapers and livestock haulers. A perk to entering this segment is existing passenger/light truck customers could provide you with added business, and vice versa: new trailer tire customers may switch to your dealership when it comes to purchasing tires for their cars and trucks.
“Trailer tires are yet another product line for a dealer to carry,” Kenda’s Chang says. “The trailer is towed by a vehicle and, therefore, a consumer will go to the place where he or she shopped for passenger and light truck tires.”
“If dealers are not stocking trailer tires, they should reconsider,” Maxxis says. “This is generally a higher profit segment and is easy to inventory. In addition, there could be an opportunity to sell other products for the tow vehicle.”
Chang says dealers should also consider additional signage or advertising that specifically pertains to trailer tires. The fact that not all dealers carry these specialized tires means the extra attention could go a long way.
Down to Business
While no additional equipment is needed to service trailer tires, they are quite different than passenger/light truck offerings in many ways. Most notably, trailer tires are designed to carry heavier loads at lower speeds, Chang says.
“The tires feature a shallower tread depth in order to prevent heat buildup,” he says. “Also, it seems increasing load capacity is a trend as more higher ply rating tires have been added to the market for the last few years.”
He notes Kenda’s most popular tires in this segment are the Load Star K550 bias, which features longer tread wear, low rolling resistance and a flatter tread profile for increased towing stability, and Karrier Radial tires, which offer increased durability and tire life, superior traction in wet and dry conditions, and a smoother ride with additional stability at highway speeds.
“In general, trailer tires are designed to have stiffer construction to minimize trailer sway,” Maxxis says. “The rubber compound will also feature more chemicals to resist weather and ozone cracking.”
A trailer tire’s load capacity depends on the ply rating, so it’s important dealers communicate with customers as far as what jobs the tires will need to perform.
“Most of our products have a 6-10 ply rating, therefore they are designed to carry more load than your standard P-metric tire,” says Maxxis. The company’s most popular tire in this segment is the Maxxis M8008, designed to decrease rolling resistance for improved fuel economy and tread life. The radial tire features double steel-belted construction for added strength and vehicle towing stability, as well as excellent shock absorption and superior load-handling performance, according to the company.
Trailer tires are not designed to “wear out” like a conventional tire.
“The life of a trailer tire is limited by time and duty cycles,” Maxxis says. “Industry standards suggest that trailer tires should be replaced after three to four years of service regardless of tread depth or tire appearance. On average, the mileage expectation of a trailer tire is typically between 5,000 to 12,000 miles.”
Trailer tires should never be mounted on passenger cars and light trucks, as they are not designed to perform on drive or steering axles.
One last difference – and perhaps one that is most appealing to dealers – is that a relatively small number of SKUs will offer a high amount of coverage in this segment. Five or six sizes will cover roughly 99% of the trailer tire market, Maxxis says. And that’s a huge plus, since “customers in this segment generally just want quick and easy access and don’t want to have to shop all over town to find a dealer.”
Trailer tires follow the same care and service requirements as passenger tires, including using tire care products that do not contain alcohol or petroleum, and using mild soap and water if washing is necessary, according to Maxxis.
They must be stored in a cool, dark space at maximum pressure and shielded from direct sunlight or heat/ozone-producing machinery (like a generator, for example). For extended storage, remove the load from the tires by putting the trailer on blocks and air-down the tires from maximum pressure, the tiremaker says.
“Maintaining proper air pressure is even more critical with trailer tires because people tend to add more weight while they are traveling, causing the tires to become overloaded,” says Kenda’s Chang.