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Moving Business: Container Handling Niche Offers Dealers Unique Opportunities

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In a global economy where products are imported and exported worldwide, it takes a multitude of resources to keep things moving and on track. From load docks to loading bays, container handling equipment is everywhere products are being shipped, moved and inventoried. And vital to that equipment’s operation is – you guessed it – tires.

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Tire dealers who find themselves in the right location can benefit from servicing this market, which constantly demands quality products and regular maintenance. Dealers with the right know-how and access to the bias and radial tires designed for the container handling niche can easily stack up profitable sales.

Transport Trends
The vast majority of freight transport in this category is intermodal transport, which involves the movement of goods in a single container using multiple modes of transportation – rail, ship and truck – without any handling of the freight itself when changing modes. Using this method reduces cargo handling, which improves security and reduces damages while speeding up the process and reducing overall cost.

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Dealers near rail yards and harbors are in the prime position to service the straddle carriers, forklifts, reachstackers, automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) and utility tractors, or “yard goats,” associated with the container handling industry.

And while this industry has declined in line with others in the recent economic struggle, tiremakers are confident it will quickly rebound. Prior to the downturn, “global demand for import and export of products had driven an increase in growth globally at both OE and aftermarket segments,” according to representatives for Goodyear’s off-highway business.

They note Goodyear has already seen a rebound in market demand.

“Like every other segment of the trucking business, we’re seeing decreases in the intermodal segment,” says Scott Damon, director of marketing, strategic channels and products for Bridgestone Bandag Tire Solutions. “The decrease of 20-foot equivalent container units (TEUs) is down by as much as 20% in 2009.”

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He notes the segment will follow the economy, and that BBTS has already seen some stabilization.

“We hope to see growth in 2010 with a recovery to some baseline in 2011,” Damon says. “Prior to the downturn, this segment had seen 13 years of growth. We’re a consuming economy and most of our goods are imported today, so this segment will rebound.”

Available Options
As is the case with other industrial or OTR segments, the container handling niche has been increasingly moving toward radial tires, which are better able to meet the productivity requirements of the equipment, say Goodyear representatives.

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“Sizes range from 1200R20 up through 1800R33 or the equivalent bias sizes,” according to Goodyear. “The most popular Goodyear container handling tires are EV-4A, EV-4S and EV-5S in radial designs. In bias, the ELV-4B, ELV-4D, ELV-5D are the most popular designs.”

Goodyear says the container handling business is very demanding on tires, which is why the company has developed a 3-star rated radial tire to meet the challenge. In addition, the Goodyear bias tire lineup consists of a “very robust casing, allowing customers to potentially retread the casings multiple times. This translates into lower operating cost and disposal of fewer casings,” the off-highway representatives say.

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“BBTS deals primarily with chassis and utility tractors, while the Bandag dealer network does some work on the terminal side of the business with utility tractors or yard goats,” Damon says. “Through Bridgestone off-road dealers, a retread product manufactured by Bandag, called Continuum, is used.

He says Continuum C1031 is designed specifically for port equipment such as straddle carriers, while C1041 is designed for industrial and container handling equipment.

“Bandag retread brand offers its ITR Bias specifically for intermodal use,” Damon says. “When our Bandag dealers service yard goats, tread designs such as BRM and RTP are used.”

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Meeting Demands
For customers in the container handling segment, productivity and round the clock performance is key.

“Under normal activity, these machines only stop for shift changes and when maintenance is required,” according to Goodyear representatives. “Therefore, dealers must be flexible enough to work on the machines at any given time. To do the job right, it takes a lot of time, focus and dedication by the dealer. Productivity demand in port operations requires a reliable product that delivers consistent performance.”

In addition, the container handling segment is extremely price-sensitive, says BBTS’ Damon. “Dealers who enter this segment must have very efficient retread manufacturing operations that can meet the product requirements profitably, as well as a service operation that is in tune with managing inventory requirements.

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“If a commercial dealer is already doing both truck and OTR service and retreading, then the up-front investment may not be substantial, other than the ability to retread bias tires correctly,” he continues. “However, there is a learning curve to understanding how this segment operates and how to operate within it profitably.”

Stocking these tires can often create a problem, since a large amount of inventory needs to be stocked at all times. Ordering sizes as needed isn’t an option when fleets may request new tires at a moment’s notice. Also, correct specification of the product for the application is vitally important.

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In servicing these tires, tubes and flaps must be removed, inspected and replaced – so there’s an additional step, Damon says.

Dealers also need to remember that rim inspections are crucial to the performance of the products. In addition, the value of proper air pressure cannot be over-emphasized due to the inflation pressures required for this application,” say the Goodyear representatives.

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