Trailers and RVs are hot right now, and selling specialized tires for them can mean easy money for dealers
Rick Coffey is feeling pretty good these days. As product manager for the high-speed division of Carlisle Tire and Wheel Co., which offers trailer tires, Coffey has watched his sales skyrocket. All high-speed tire plants are operating at full capacity, and the tire manufacturer is looking to expand. “Everything we make is getting sold,” he says.
Ditto for Jim Pearl, senior vice president of sales and marketing for specialty tire manufacturer Denman Tire. Pearl says his small, Ohio-based company is “chasing production” right now to keep up with market demand. ®€œWe’re making every tire we can,®€ he says.
Why all the good fortune? Coffey attributes it to the growing market for utility trailer tires ®€“ the kind used for towing boats, horses and equipment, as well as RVs, campers and more. And Pearl says it’s because the OE trailer market is doing very well, and tire manufacturers that supply the OEMs are running out of product. That means more business for replacement tires. “Ninety-five percent of our business is in the aftermarket,” adds Pearl.
The RV industry expects to see a 30% sales increase this year, says Coffey. And, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), RV shipments for 2003 are on track to record the industry’s third highest yearly total ever.
The market for travel trailers has grown significantly since Sept. 11, 2001, as a result of more people traveling domestically over the road. In addition to the appeal of domestic road trips, other factors influencing this trend include low interest rates spurring new construction, low inflation, rising home values and additional discretionary income as a result of mortgage refinancing, according to the RVIA.
For retail and wholesale tire dealers, the increased popularity of weekend trips and family outings means more opportunities for selling and distributing replacement trailer tires. “Specialty trailer tires offer retailers and wholesalers excellent opportunities for additional sales and profits,” says Tom Beasley, vice president of aftermarket sales, for Greenball Corp. ®€œThe market is steady, and the construction, travel and tourism industries are strong.®€
According to the RMA, the OE specialty trailer tire market saw 1.2 million units shipped in 2003, and the market for replacements has gone up from 2002 to 2003 ®€“ from 650,000 to 670,000 units.
And, considering that most people haul trailers with their pickup trucks, it makes sense for a tire dealer to offer trailer tires along with a LT/SUV tire purchase. “If the customer has to go somewhere else to get a trailer tire, the dealer is missing an opportunity to be a one-stop-shop,” says Denman’s Pearl.
Trailer Tires Are Special
Though the trailer tire market is relatively straightforward, a few points deserve mentioning.
First, it is essential that customers select the correct tires to match their application and capacity requirements. Tires with the special trailer (ST) designation are generally built differently than tires with the passenger (P) or light truck (LT) designation. “Dealers should be aware of the ST designation,” says Beasley, ®€œbecause the load carrying capacities of ST tires are greater®€ than standard tires.
Greenball offers its bias Towmaster ST tire in eight- through 12-inch sizes and its radial Towmaster and Transmaster ST tires in 13- through 15-inch sizes.
According to Pearl, trailers keep getting bigger and load carrying capacities keep getting greater. “One of the hottest trailer tire sizes [at the OE level] is the LT235/85R16,” he says. ®€œBut it’s a light truck tire. We are introducing a true ST235/85R16. Molds are already on order.®€ Denman is introducing this new tire as a replacement for the LT version because ®€œthe carrying capacity of a ST tire ®€“ of the same size and ply rating ®€“ is much greater than that of an LT tire.®€ The reason? The tire and rim discount the carrying capacity of LT tires, he says. Denman is also introducing a true ST245/75R16 10-ply tire ®€“ another hot LT size at the trailer OE level. Both tires should be available by fall, according to Pearl.
As with any tire, proper inflation is important. But with trailer tires in particular, sidewalls flex if they’re underinflated, says Patrick D’Auria, marketing manager at Duro Tire. And flexing ®€“ though desirable in passenger tires for handling ®€“ is disastrous in trailer applications. Flexing leads to trailer sway, which can lead to accidents. It’s for this reason that experts generally do not recommend using passenger or light truck tires on trailers.
The stiffer sidewalls of ST-designated tires help control sway problems, but proper inflation is also necessary. “Air pressure is key to ST tires,” agrees Coffey. ®€œThey must be kept to the maximum recommended pressure at all times.®€
ST tires also have reduced tread depths that help with straight tracking, adds Mark Cherveny, product manager for light truck tires at Goodyear.
Goodyear’s Marathon ST line features a solid-center rib design and reduced tread depth that allows the tire to stay cool under load, says Cherveny.
Another problem ®€“ flat spotting ®€“ can occur if trailer tires are underinflated and under load for an extended time, adds Cherveny. “Dealers should warn their customers not to store their trailers under load for long periods of time,” he says.
Dealers should also ensure their customers are using the appropriate load range-rated tires for their applications. It’s a matter of safety ®€“ and protection from a potential lawsuit, Pearl says.
“Though the LT tire costs less, down the road, customers could have a problem because they don’t have the carrying capacity they need,” he says, ®€œand the dealer, distributor, manufacturer ®€“ anyone involved ®€“ could get sued. I would suggest the customer use a true ST tire.®€ The only way for a dealer to be in the clear when selling trailer tires is to ask customers what they plan to transport with their trailers.
Hank Chang, manager of marketing and product development at specialty tire manufacturer Kenda, also advises dealers to tell their customers not to mix bias and radial tires and to use the same brand on the same axles.
What to Stock
The most popular trailer tire diameters, according to D’Auria, are 14 and 15 inches (F78-14 and F78-15 in the old alpha numeric system). “We’ve seen a 10% increase in 14-inch tire sales from 2002 to 2003, he adds.
(Editor’s Note: The trailer tire industry currently uses three different size identification systems, making tire trailer sizing even more difficult than passenger sizing for consumers to understand. The identification systems are numeric, alpha numeric and metric. Trailer tire manufacturers are currently phasing in the use of metric, already used for passenger and light truck tires.)
Duro plans to introduce its first radial trailer tire by third quarter of this year. Currently in field testing, the new radial DS2100 is made with “synthetic rubber and steel belts for high tensile strength and is designed with large shoulder grooves for water evacuation,” says D’Auria. The new tire will be available in six different sizes and ratings.
Carlisle’s Coffey says the most popular ST tire sizes are ST205/75R15, load range C, and ST225/75R15, load range D. Carlisle also plans to introduce several new sizes within the next couple of months, according to Coffey. Currently, the company offers ST radials in load ranges C, D and E, and ST bias (10-ply) tires in load ranges B, C, D and E.
According to Goodyear’s Cherveny, dealers need only carry the top three sizes ®€“ ST205/75R15, ST205/75R14 and ST225/75R15. “Probably 50% of the ST tires sold are in these sizes,” Cherveny explains. That’s not a lot of inventory to carry, so cost of entry for an independent dealer should be relatively low. Goodyear’s Marathon ST line comes in 13 sizes and various load ranges, from B to D. ®€œThe most common load ranges are C and D,®€ adds Cherveny.
And, all sources say that dealers don’t need special equipment to mount or balance ST tires. “If they’re mounting/balancing regular tires, they should be able to handle these,” says Pearl.
With vacation season nearly here, it would be a good time to look at your market area and customer base. Those two weeks they plan to spend on the road this summer could be profitable ones for you.