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Growing Steady: Commercial Landscaping Tire Market Offers Opportunities

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Commercial Landscaping Tire Market Offers Opportunities
Back in the 1980s, when North Gateway Tire in Medina, Ohio, first entered the commercial landscaping tire market, the dealership listed all its offerings in that segment on a double-sided flyer. Today, the company puts out a nearly 30-page catalog of the products it offers in this small yet promising niche.

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It just goes to show that with the right amount of effort and patience, entering the lawn and garden segment can bring a sizeable addition to your profits.

“There’s an opportunity there if you work at it and you’re patient and you ask some questions along the way,” says Tom Beattie, sales manager for North Gateway. “It’s been a good part of our business and definitely something that has helped us grow to where we are today.”

Though this particular segment serves two different types of customers – residential and commercial – sales in both areas have grown steadily over the past few years.

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Commercial Customers
“There was very robust growth in commercial landscaping in the late 1990s and early 2000s,” says Brian Preheim, consumer and commercial product manager for Carlisle Tire & Wheel Co. “That has flattened some, but we still predict growth over the next few years.”

Beattie attributes that growth to the ease with which people can start their own landscaping business. “It doesn’t take much to get into the business. Most of them buy a trailer and some lawnmowers and then they’re off.”

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“I think there will be a slight increase over the next few years, but it is somewhat based on the economy,” he continues. “It goes hand in hand with the building and development, along with the real estate market, in an area.”

The current state of the economy is likely to blame for the flattened growth Preheim mentioned, but that doesn’t necessarily mean demand for the tires that supply this commercial segment will be negatively affected.

“Sometimes there’s a lag time as far as the replacement market goes,” he says, explaining that the boom at the beginning of the decade may contribute to healthy replacement tire sales now for mowers and other equipment purchased at that time.

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“Also, sometimes when the economy is doing poorly and people feel a little more pressed, they don’t necessarily go out and buy new equipment, they try to keep things going,” Preheim continues. “So sometimes the replacement market actually does pretty well when the OEM market is down. Owners decide to replace the tires one more time instead of junking the unit and buying a whole new piece of equipment. There’s not always a direct correlation and sometimes there’s a lag, so the replacement market might actually do quite well over the next couple of years.”

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The commercial landscaping market directly correlates with disposable income; the more extra money a person has, the more likely they are to hire someone to care for their lawn. When things get tight, more homeowners do it themselves, Preheim says.

But in either case, both commercial and residential users will be looking for a dealer to supply them with tires and service for their equipment.

Getting Started
When considering this market segment, first look at your area: are there many other tire dealers nearby that already have a well-established customer base in this market? Are there a lot of commercial landscaping companies or golf courses close by?

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Ideally, you would face little competition and have a large number of potential customers. The initial investment of entering this market varies, depending on how many sizes you decide to stock.

“If they already know tires, which they obviously do, dealers would only have to invest in the inventory and making themselves knowledgeable about this particular market and how to service it,” Preheim says.

He says there are typically four sizes for front lawnmower tires, and you would have to multiply that number by the amount of different tread patterns (smooth or ribbed) and plies (2-ply or 4-ply) in order to determine how many SKUs you would carry.

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“I’d say you could get away with keeping eight or 16 front tires stocked,” Preheim says. “That’s four sizes and two different tread patterns. I’d generally stock all 4-ply tires.”

For rear tires, there is a greater variety of tread patterns and about eight different sizes to choose from. Preheim notes you would probably need to keep at least 16 rear tires, or eight sizes in two tread patterns, stocked to be able to provide for most potential customers.

“You have to stock a pretty good-sized inventory because of the size ranges and the different tread designs,” Beattie says. “When somebody wants one, they need it right then. Landscapers can’t afford to wait for you to get a tire in stock. The key is having the product ready when they walk in the door.”

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He says North Gateway is often put in that situation in the spring, when “people pull the lawnmower out from the winter and see that they’ve got a flat tire. The only way you can sell the product is if you have it on hand.”

In addition to inventory, there is some equipment required for mounting the smaller-sized tires. Look for mounting equipment made specifically for smaller sizes, or ways to modify a typical automotive mounter, Preheim says.

“You also have to invest in training your staff on how to mount/dismount and service them,” Beattie says. “But because there aren’t that many dealers out there who work with landscaping tires, you’re able to get a fair price for your services.”

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Getting Attention
“A large part of it is letting people know you’re capable of serving this market segment,” Beattie says.

Through advertising, word of mouth, or even calling large landscaping companies or golf courses to let them know you’re able to service their equipment, setting up a marketing plan as soon as you have inventory stocked is one way to help guarantee success in this market segment.

North Gateway has a display in its showroom specifically for the lawn and garden segment, so when people come in for another service, they notice that and remember it later, Beattie says. “We even went through the expense of buying a riding lawnmower for the display to catch people’s attention. And it works – they come in for one thing, and they see the other.”

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Moving Forward
Once customers start rolling in, the knowledge gained about the segment, particularly about OE selections, comes in handy when helping them to choose replacement tires.

“If they’re using a multi-tread tire on their mower and one of them gets punctured, in general, because of the size difference from one manufacturer to another, and even sometimes the differences between one tread pattern and another, it’s a good idea to follow what the OEM placed on the equipment,” Preheim says. “Deck heights are affected by tires. You have to provide the right product for what they need, not just throw a tire on. A tire that matches and lines up properly will result in an even cut.”

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Carlisle’s most popular offerings include the Turf Master and Multi-Trac, both rear traction tires made specially for this application, with shoulders designed to grip but not tear up turf. The Reliance tire line for front tires is also a big seller, mainly because it is an airless tire that removes the possibilities of punctures and the resulting down time, Preheim says. Carlisle is currently working on a new, more aggressive commercial tread pattern for rear tires, but the company says it’s too soon to release any further details.

They key item to remember when entering this market segment is that for commercial landscapers, time is money.

“Commercial landscapers can’t afford to have down time,” Preheim says. “So a dealer who knows the product line, has quick service capability and has the product in stock has a great opportunity in terms of sales and profit.”

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