Temperatures are soaring, plants are blooming and winter has been wrapped with a tidy bow. It might sound counterintuitive, but this means it’s the perfect time to think about your winter tire inventory.
The trouble is, forecasting for winter tire sales is a complex endeavor. Consumer demand often directly correlates with the severity of the season, and many have opted to simply leave their all-season tires on year-round. Plus, many manufacturers have taken notice of the rising popularity of the all-weather tire, which is designed to provide control in wet and snowy conditions like a winter tire but with the convenience of an all-season tire – thus remaining on a vehicle year-round.
Nolan Calvin, owner of Nolan’s Point S Tire and Auto Service in Gresham, Oregon, says dealers selling winter tires should be as prepared as is practical based on the demand in their area and their storage space available, but flexibility is key.
“You take the [winter] tire business as it comes. Circumstances dictate the sales,” Calvin says. “We try to be as ready as we can in general, but it’s not something that we can count on. Every year’s a little bit different.”
Regardless, winter tires are an important product for many dealers, and checking the right boxes to prepare for a successful season will help you to plan your inventory and maximize sales.
Plan for the Worst – and Best – Weather
While researching past sales data is always recommended, a particularly harsh or mild winter can throw all of your preparation into a tailspin.
Thankfully, manufacturers have resources for forecasting potential demand that can help dealers who take advantage of them. Steve Bourassa, director of products and pricing for Nokian Tyres, says the company doesn’t try to rely on unpredictable weather patterns to base its production cycle, but is able to keep a close eye on potential demand, and, in turn, decide how many winter tires to manufacture in a given year based on computer modeling software.
“We use our own custom algorithm that incorporates all available information, including carryover at our warehouses and our customers’,” Bourassa says. “It provides the insight we need to build our manufacturing plan.”
Stuart Howell, general manager and owner of seven Tire Centers, Inc. locations around central Washington, says he and his team of managers review the top 25 winter tire sizes from the past three years to help them decide the products his stores will order up front in March, but he says he also pays close attention to manufacturer reports.
“Reports provided by manufacturers shows vehicles and tire sizes within certain zip codes to predict any uptick in new vehicles that may be strong in our market,” he said.
Howell says he tries to order the bulk of his inventory direct at the end of March but depends on secondary suppliers to augment his stock come mid-season.
Nokian’s Customer Service Manager, Anthony D’Andrea, says the company maintains its stock during winter months to help dealers who need to place in-season orders.
“Larger retailers tend to order winter tires earlier to maximize product availability, while smaller customers with lower inventory capacity often order as the season evolves,” D’Andrea says.
Like Nokian, Continental Tires doesn’t base production on predicting the weather, but instead looks to national and global dealer orders, as well as past performance of its winter tire lines, to be sure they manufacture enough product to meet demand.
“We offer a winter tire program in the month of February to our dealers to place their orders for the upcoming winter season,” says Travis Roffler, Continental’s director of marketing. “Based on these preorders we will manufacture these, plus some additional inventory stock to cover add-on orders when the season starts.”
Know Your Customer
While some consumers might not be aware of or appreciate the actual benefits of using winter tires in the snow and ice, others – especially those who drive for a living – are prepared to buy well before the first snowflake hits the ground.
Barry Steinberg, owner of four Direct Tire & Auto Service stores in the Boston market, says he gives special discounts on winter tires to customers who drive for rideshare companies.
“Here, Uber drivers and Lyft guys are extremely cognizant [of the benefits of winter tires]. They get a discount,” Steinberg said. “I think you will find the true believers in winter tires will not go with an all-weather tire.”
Steinberg has also become acquainted with many of the local truck drivers who plow the streets and has familiarized himself with the winter tire sizes they need for their vehicles before it snows. As these drivers generally want to be prepared ahead of the first snowstorm of the season, he said having these tires in stock early helps improve his stores’ sales in November.
Just like Steinberg, a large part of Howell’s selling strategy is knowing which vehicles are likely to be on the road with snow tires. These days, those are typically light trucks and front-wheel-drive commuters, he says.
Calvin says he prepares his shop for two waves of winter tire customers: The first wave in November, when skiers and his other regulars prepare themselves for the inevitable, and the second wave, which typically comes after a weather forecast predicts there will be a heavy dose of snow and ice days later. He added that he pegs Jan. 10 as the unofficial day when his winter tire stock should be nearly depleted; customers who were on the fence have gotten that far, and likely won’t give in to the sale that late into the season.
But, he reiterated, flexibility is key.
“As a matter of fact, this year on Feb. 8 we had the biggest [winter] tire run we’ve ever had. It was a couple of days before an imminent storm and the forecast looked like it would be really bad,” Calvin says. “If you’d have told me, if I had to bet that we’d have the busiest day of the year on Feb. 8, I’d have said you’re crazy.”
Offer Perks with Purchase
Tire dealers are wise to offer additional savings and services to customers buying winter tires at the time of sale.
At Nolan’s Point S Tire and Auto Service, Calvin says he offers 10% off winter tires in October as an early-bird special. Once the sale has been made, he then agrees to store the winter tires until the customer wants them installed.
In addition to offering a manufacturer’s special that covers the winter tire segment, which Howell says he markets aggressively as the third quarter winds down, he says he also holds a safe winter driving class and gives discounts on winter tires to participants who complete the class.
If you have the storage space, storing summer and/or winter tires is a great way to keep the customer coming back to your store. Steinberg says storing tires is a vital part of his selling strategy.
“Not many people do it outside of Boston and some guys up north, but we’ve been storing tires for well over 30 years,” Steinberg said. “It’s the best. First of all, you lock that person in to come back to you. Some people call us up and ask if it’s true that we’ll store tires for them. When we say yes, they’re so happy they don’t even ask about the price of the new tires.”
Check out the rest of the June digital edition of Tire Review here.