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It’s in the Hole!

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Getting involved in the golf tire market can be easier than getting out of a bunker

"Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course, the space between your ears."

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– Bobby Jones

Many believe Bobby Jones’s statement should be amended to include all forms of golf, not just competitive. Still others side with Mark Twain’s feeling that "Golf is a good walk gone bad."

While the game of golf itself can be frustrating, irritating and (insert adjective here), selling tires and services to golf courses shouldn’t be.

The popularity of golf has really taken off over the last several years. Whole retirement communities are being built around new courses, as are private communities. With the increased interest, golf courses are springing up where no one previously thought they could. After all, there are three golf courses in Fairbanks, Alaska.

All this means opportunities for tire dealers in a market they may have never considered. But golf course tires encompass more than just golf carts. There are lawnmowers, tractors, and a multitude of maintenance vehicles. Even pull carts have a strip of tread on them. In short, there’s a lot of rubber needed to maintain a course.

Once dealers delve into this business, they may find a plethora of golf courses just looking for quality tires and good service. Oh, and one more thing dealers could find before taking the first tee ®ƒ extra profits.

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Tee-to-Green

Golf course business has been booming the last several years. New construction and increased attendance at existing courses have meant an influx of equipment into the market. Which means more replacement tires are being pumped into the market, as well.

"In 2002, the market for golf cart tires proved to be the best ever, with large growth compared to 2000 and 2001," says Tom Beasley, aftermarket sales manager at Greenball Tire Corp. "With the golf courses and retirement communities being opened almost daily in all areas of the country, we expect the golf course business to increase at a steady – if not rapid ®“ pace over the next few years."

For the current year, several in the industry see the market flattening a little due to current economic and geopolitical issues. That, however, will not be a long-term trend.

"From where I sit, it appears the general golf market has been growing at a 5%-10% pace year-over-year for the past five years," says Dave Bender, Carlisle Tire’s product manager for lawn/garden and golf tires. "On the positive side, too, golf cart-type vehicles continue to gain popularity with both closed community groups and retirement community residents.

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"We fully expect this growth trend to continue and grow even stronger as the baby boomers settle in their retirement years."

So how can dealers capitalize on this? Simple: make contact. Walking into any local golf course and introducing yourself to the course manager and maintenance superintendents can go a long way. "These are the people making tire decisions," says Bender. Get to know them.

Tell them what you have to offer, but more importantly, find out what they need. Also, get a "lay of the land," as it were, and find out how the course likes to take care of its turf.

Dealers need to find out what kinds of tires courses are running on. Maybe a course says it is happy with what they have, and won’t switch. Getting information up front is critical.

"Having a knowledgeable sales person visit the maintenance department of each course in your area and finding out exactly what tires are in service, which includes size and tread design, will assure you have the proper tires when needed," says Beasley. "Maintenance departments make the decision due to the fact that if the equipment goes down, it’s their job to get it up and running again."

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Once you’ve got your foot in the door with tire and service offerings, there are other things you can do to make yourself look like a pro and save you extra time and effort.

Things like pre-mounted tires.

"Think about a tire/wheel exchange program with both local golf courses and communities," Bender suggests. "It’s much easier to stock the most popular tire/wheel assemblies and simply change out the complete assembly then it is to change out the tire only.

"In many cases, changing out just the tire requires taking the assembly back to the shop where the dealer has access to necessary changing equipment. Downtime is critical and if the dealer can provide a quick turnaround with tires, that’s a big plus."

Bump-and-Run

When most people hear "golf course tires," they immediately think of golf carts. Understandable, but that’s just scratching the surface. Cart tires are the most popular – simply because there are so many carts ®“ but there’s a whole universe of equipment out there.

"Tires on golf carts do see the most use and are obviously the most visible," Bender says. "Most golfers don’t see much of what goes on in the off hours, but maintenance equipment is a large piece of any golf course’s operations.

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"Most mowing equipment and maintenance equipment are equipped with pneumatic tires, and that can be an excellent source of increased business for the local tire dealer. In addition, most golf courses and closed or retirement communities have no way to change tires, so that’s another opportunity for the local tire dealer to become involved."

The popularity of certain tires and tread designs is also dependent on the location of the course. Beasley says geographic regions play a major role in determining what tires are most preferred or might work best on certain terrain or turf types.

Flop Shots

Unlike what seems to happen at the OE automobile level, golf maintenance equipment manufacturers work closely with tire companies to make sure the right tires get on the right application. From design to completion, engineers from both sides of the equation work together to maximize performance.

"OE manufacturers of cart and course equipment have very good engineers and designers who work with the tire manufacturers to develop a tire/wheel needed for that piece of equipment to maximize its efficiency and productivity," Beasley says. In turn, "Greenball has had engineers develop tires that manufacturers have been very pleased with."

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Carlisle’s Bender adds: "Our engineering group works very close with the engineering people at the various equipment manufacturers. This relationship starts with the design stage and continues through new model rollout and into the field.

"It’s critical that the proper tire/wheel combination get matched to each piece of equipment and its intended application," he says.

New technology for course equipment is also something both OEMs and tiremakers look into together. While, obviously, run-flats aren’t a big issue, things like footprint area and soil compaction are huge when dealing with the delicate surfaces of a golf course.

But with all the technology that’s been mastered across the tire industry, haven’t golf course tires yet reached their full potential? "I don’t believe we can ever truly say that tires have evolved to their highest point," says Beasley. "Technology changes and there is always room for improvement in service, ride and life of the tires."

Not to mention course turf technology, which constantly produces new and better grasses that help minimize course maintenance and deliver long-term performance. Tires need to keep up with turf requirements.

Carlisle’s Bender echoes the thought of golf course tires continuing to evolve – without giving away details of what might be coming down the fairway, so to speak. "I’m not at liberty to discuss new technologies at this point, but keep your ear to the ground," he says.

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Birdie Opportunity

Providing service to golf courses is all what the dealer desires. Like practicing your swing, the more effort put in, the greater the reward. Just ask Medina, Ohio-based North Gateway Tire.

Back in 1988, a few of the guys at North Gateway were sitting around talking golf. They loved to play, and were probably swapping war stories about how they chipped in for eagle to post the best round of their lives – grinning all the way through their tall tales. Then, one of them got the idea of selling tires to golf courses.

"We came up with a flyer and sent it around to some local courses," says Tom Beattie, sales manager. "It went over pretty good."

It took about three years for the golf business to really take off, but from the simple one-page, front-and-back flyer that detailed a small amount of tires for sale, North Gateway’s golf tire business grew. And grew.

"I found a listing somewhere for golf courses in several states and started mailing them flyers," Beattie says. "The response was great. That one-page flyer is now a 24-page catalog that details tire models and sizes, tubes, wheels, anything a golf course needs. We’ve just worked at it."

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Today, North Gateway services over 200 golf courses across Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Pennsylvania, and they mail about 300 catalogs a year. North Gateway delivers to several local courses, using outside contractors to provide on-site service. But sometimes the courses will bring equipment to North Gateway. All other non-local customers receive their product shipped overnight.

North Gateway sells tire products for all manner of golf course vehicles, from carts to mowers to the service trucks. And many times, the course employees come to North Gateway for service on their personal vehicles, as well.

"Surprisingly, we sell a lot to out of state courses," Beattie says. "We just saw a need there because there’s a lot of equipment that needs tires."

Beattie says they do a fair amount of business in December and January when courses are tearing vehicles down after the season. Business is real busy in March and April as the golf season is getting ready to start. But the phone doesn’t stop ringing when putts start rolling.

"Some courses plan ahead of time, which leads to heavy off-season business," he says. "But when a course calls in July needing something, they need it right then because an important piece of equipment is down."

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Beattie has some advice for dealers looking to get into the golf course tire business. It can be boiled down to one word – inventory.

"Provide everything you can to the customer, but be willing to stock the merchandise," he says. "Get good suppliers that can fill your needs – there are a lot of tires to have access to ®“ and let your customers know that you can supply them anytime.

"The profit is good on the golf business, but the key is having the inventory. We’ve learned over the years how to do it. It’s all in what you want to do."

Selling golf course tires and services should be a quick up and down. The market is there, the product is there and the profits are there. Dealers just need to line up the shot and fire away.

Who knows, increasing your profits by getting into the golf tire market may just decrease your handicap.

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