No Boundaries?: Blurred Lines a Challenge, But Dealers Can Still Make Hay With Lawn & Garden Tires - Tire Review Magazine

No Boundaries?: Blurred Lines a Challenge, But Dealers Can Still Make Hay With Lawn & Garden Tires

It used to be a no-brainer: Specialized tires have specialized buyers. While that mantra still holds true in some tire segments, for lawn and garden tires, lines that were clearly observable in the past are starting to blur. Boundaries are fading, and the market is fast becoming more complex.

And, we’re not just talking about the SKU proliferation that complicates inventory planning.

On the contrary, thanks to aggressive cost-cutting measures by tire and equipment manufacturers, SKU proliferation has actually slowed in the lawn and garden segment, according to Randy Tsai, product development manager at Greenball Corp. “A lot of manufacturers have been consolidating sizes within their lineup,” says Tsai. That’s welcome news for retail and wholesale tire dealers alike.

But, just as one challenge seems to dissipate, another crops up.

Blurry Lines

With lawn and garden tires, the biggest challenge today is maintaining that all-important grasp on the particulars. There are generally two mini-segments – residential and commercial – within the lawn and garden tire market.

The residential mini -segment – made up of walk-ins looking to replace a simple lawn mower tire – continues to be flat, according to Carl Miller, vice president of sales and marketing for Monitor Manufacturing, a subsidiary of Kenda USA.

“With two-income households and increased disposable income, more and more people are opting to use a mowing service rather than spend their leisure time doing yard work,” says Miller.

That, in turn, is leading to growth in the other, more profitable mini-segment: the commercial arena. “There are opportunities for independent tire dealers in the lawn and garden market if they carry more of the commercial-size tires and tubes,” Miller says. “The best opportunities would probably be with municipalities or state (DOT) facilities that have their own mowing and industrial equipment.”

Greenball’s Tsai agrees. “The average consumer will go to a Wal-Mart to buy replacement lawn and garden tires,” he says. “They have become price points.”

Still, dealers shouldn’t discount potential profit opportunities in the residential market. Brian Preheim, consumer and commercial product manager for Carlisle Tire & Wheel Co., has noticed growth in the consumer ZTR (zero turning radius) mower market, for example.

“Commercial applications are common,” says Preheim, of ZTR mowers. “However, over the last few years, manufacturers have been making smaller versions to appeal to consumers. And, they are priced to compete with front-engine tractors.” According to Preheim, ZTR mowers usually require traction tires on the rear and rib tires on the front. Most popular sizes are 24×12-12 (rear) and 13×650-6 (front). Smaller units – such as 11×400-5 (front) and 18- to 20- inch tall rear tires – are becoming increasingly popular, too, Preheim says.

It seems, too, that the lines between specialty tire segments – lawn and garden, golf, ATV tires, etc. – are starting to blur. Preheim has observed increased use of ATV and turf-tread tires on utility vehicles. “Many manufacturers – of ATVs, golf carts, etc. – have been competing in this area,” he says. “Traditionally, these markets haven’t had a lot of overlap. It seems that everyone has decided to get into this market.”

In warmer regions of the U.S., both commercial and residential customers are putting ATV tires on golf carts, says Tsai. “Golf carts typically take size 18×850-8 tires, but with ‘golf cart conversions,’ people are fitting them with low-profile, 205/50R10 tires.”

In the Field

Despite the blurring of tire and customer lines, lawn and garden tires still need specialized service. It’s doubtful that will change anytime soon.

As with other tire segments, overall success in selling lawn and garden tires depends on knowing the product and its applications and then promoting that knowledge.

With commoditized lawn and garden tires, this knowledge is even more important. “We see profit opportunities shrinking, as these tires become football items,” says Tsai. “They are priced based and tossed around a lot.”

Still, there’s money to be made with the right strategy. “We see these tires as more of a ‘service’ item,” explains Tsai. “It’s an opportunity for a dealer to be a one-stop shop. These tires are best sold as add ons.”

In other words, a dealer that piggybacks lawn and garden tire sales to other, more mainstream, product offerings may see better overall margins. Tsai says that a consumer might go to a tire dealer for passenger and light truck tires and just happen to notice, from cleverly positioned signage, that the dealer also offers lawn and garden tires.

“This area of specialization is an underserved market,” Preheim adds. “Dealers tend to rely heavily on their distributors and don’t become very knowledgeable in specialty tire markets. But, if they make a commitment to stock and sell and learn about the product, there are definite profit opportunities.”

To help dealers promote specialty tire offerings, Carlisle launched its new Carlisle Certified Dealer (CCD) program last spring. Since then, about 2,500 tire dealers have joined the CCD network, which offers support through signage, banners, decals, posters, counter mats and online exposure through a Web-based dealer locator. Carlisle has plans to expand the CCD program throughout the U.S., Canada, Mexico and other countries.

While inventory carried at a dealership should, of course, reflect the needs of the local area, “a commercial line of tires in 6-, 8- and 12-inch sizes should be in every tire store,” says Miller.

And, retail tire dealers will have to be able to mount smaller-diameter lawn and garden tires. “Smaller mounters, for 4- to 12-inch rim diameters, are available,” says Preheim. “And, there are specialized small mounters for tires with integral hubs.” Wikco Industries Inc. (wikco.biz) is one supplier that offers these types of small tire changers.

All in, Preheim pinpoints three keys to success in the lawn and garden tire market: availability, service and visibility. “You’ve got to have it to sell it; being knowledgeable in the product will pay off; and promote yourself as the place to go for specialty tires,” he says.

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