Perhaps the most versatile of all earthmoving equipment, skid-steer loaders have hundreds of applications excavation, grading, general construction, demolition, recycling, mining, road repair, landscaping, agriculture, snow removal and more.
That versatility ensures that there will always be a steady need and profit opportunity for tire dealers that sell skid-steer tires. At Maxxis International USA, for example, skid-steer tire sales have remained steady for the past few years, according to Scott Griffin, specialty tire manager.
The primary buyers of skid-steer tires are paving and demolition companies, rental companies, construction contractors, farmers, golf courses and landscaping companies. In addition, says John Funke, North American marketing director for Michelin North America’s (MNA) earthmover tire division, “there is a very active resale market, as many customers who had rented machines are now buying used skid steers from rental companies or are buying new machines from manufacturers.”
Many end users are adding attachments to their skid steers, increasing their versatility even further. “The continued growth of attachments is leading the skid steer to be an essential tool in all applications,” Funke states. “New applications and attachments are being designed on a regular basis.”
Even some scissor-lift makers are beginning to specify skid-steer tires because they are sturdy and can handle heavy loads, according to Mike Castaneda, assistant vice president of aftermarket sales at Greenball Corp.
All of these new applications may help explain why Castaneda has seen the skid-steer tire market increase 5%-8% annually over the past few years, faster than many tire segments. The market, alive and well, can be a great source of extra profits for a dealer.
Even better, a dealer that offers skid-steer tires may garner additional commercial tire sales. “Most customers that have skid steers also have larger equipment and will require service capabilities on that equipment, as well,” says Funke.
Whether you’re a dealer looking to break into the skid-steer tire segment or you already sell these tires and want to boost your sales, it pays to stay on top of the latest trends. Market knowledge sets one dealer apart from another.
Castaneda says skid-steer vehicle manufacturers have been developing larger loaders with higher lifting capacities some equipped with hydraulics to power a wide variety of attachments.
That means a push towards larger tire sizes. Though the two most popular sizes are still 10R16.5 and 12R16.5, Castaneda says 17.5s and 19.5s are becoming more popular for larger applications.
Nevertheless, a dealer can still cover most of the market by carrying a standard skid-steer tread pattern in sizes 10R16.5 and 12R16.5. “Sixty to 70% of the market is the standard skid steer tread pattern and two sizes,” Castaneda says. “If a dealership carries two standard sizes and two heavy-duty sizes, it should be able to cover the market. Sizes 17.5 and 19.5 can always be special ordered.”
Greenball’s biggest sellers are its PowerTrax for hard surfaces and SureTrax tires for soft dirt and loose soil. At Maxxis, the standard R-4 lug tire is the hottest item in the segment, says Griffin.
Griffin has seen an increased use of tracks, which, when used as retrofits, can give skid-steer loaders additional traction and flotation in soft soil conditions.
Radialization is another trend tiremakers are witnessing in the skid-steer tire segment. Though the segment is still predominantly bias ply, says Funke, “key benefits of steel radials are resistance to punctures, longer tread life and enhanced repairability.” And, end users are taking note.
Interestingly, MNA has conducted preliminary research on a Tweel application for skid steers. The tiremaker first introduced Tweel, an airless tire and wheel assembly, last year at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Business to Business
Though inventory isn’t complicated, Funke stresses that “immediate availability will set one dealer apart from another due to the high cost of downtime.” The majority of skid-steer tire buyers, after all, are business owners. When a piece of equipment is down, it means lost revenue and additional cost. So, beyond stocking a ready supply of tires, a dealer should also enlist the help of a reliable distributor that can ship a tire at a moment’s notice.
Because they are concerned with the costs of doing business, it’s not a surprise that “owners of skid steers look for three primary attributes when considering tires resistance to punctures, traction and longevity,” according to Funke.
Wear has always been a concern in this segment, since all four wheels on a typical skid-steer loader are mounted on fixed axles and run only straight ahead or straight back. That means extra pressure on sidewalls.
To extend wear rates, manufacturers are continuing to develop application-specific tread designs for rough concrete, pavement, delicate turf and so on. A dealer can also order tires that provide flotation for use in wet or loose surface areas, such as compost yards, beaches and swamps.
Service a Must
Castaneda believes some of the growth in the market can be attributed to competitive pressures. “Dealers are recognizing that this business is out there,” he says. “They are looking to add more profits by selling products that aren’t offered by the mass stores.”
That makes sense. Not only do skid-steer tire sales boast higher margins than passenger tire sales, mass merchants don’t stock and sell skid-steer tires. Expertise and reliable, speedy service are critical. “Those dealers who exceed the customer’s expectations with service are successful in the skid loader market,” says Griffin.
Experts agree that a dealer won’t get far in the skid-steer tire business without at least one service truck. “Many job sites are remote, and these users need a dealer that has the proper equipment and properly trained personnel to handle all of the tire needs for the machines on that site,” says Funke. “The skid-steer tire market can be a very profitable part of a dealer’s business if it is equipped and prepared to service commercial vehicles on the job site.”
Rental yards, in particular, can generate additional profits for a tire dealer willing and able to perform regular service calls, says Castaneda. “Rental yards are known for not keeping up their air pressure,” he says. “So, regular air-pressure checks are important.”
Tire dealers already doing business in other commercial markets shouldn’t have much trouble breaking into the skid-steer tire business. “Normal medium truck tire service equipment and practices almost always apply to skid-steer tires,” Funke says.
Dealers may also consider offering flatproofing service to skid-steer tire customers. Flatproofing, which includes foam fills and other materials that fill the inside of a tire, eliminates the risk of flat tires on the job site.
Steer With Caution
Some caution is always prudent when pursuing a new business venture. The same holds true for the skid-steer tire segment. “The skid steer tire business is becoming a commodity business,” Castaneda warns. “Because these tires are used so widely, we’re seeing an increase in production by offshore manufacturers, which sometimes produce tires that are shorter.” Different factories can produce different dimensions for the same size tire, even if the size printed on the sidewall is exactly the same. “While one factory perceives the size to be a certain way, another might make it shorter,” says Castaneda.
“Mixing brands will result in different heights, weights and quality,” he says. The danger lies in purchasing tires that will not fit the application or even cause skid-steer loaders to lean. So, when ordering skid-steer tires, dealers should “ask their suppliers if the tire is full size and have them commit to that,” Castaneda advises.
Griffin offers another caution to dealers: “Do not expect immediate returns, as it will take time to build up a profitable market.” No matter how much market research one conducts, there’s no substitute for real-world experience. According to Griffin, the skid-steer tire business is a market that requires ‘inside’ knowledge, available only from first-hand experience. So, the more a dealer works with skid-steer tire customers, the more clear their needs will become. And, once a dealer can satisfy even anticipate those needs, sales will grow naturally.