With summer in full swing, it’s easy to forget about the frigid winter that plagued much of the U.S. just months ago. But, this past winter had a positive effect for dealers selling winter tires, and industry experts expect this upcoming season to be another positive for dealers, as well.
“We have not had a harsh winter in a while, so the winter of 2013-14 did help with winter tire sales,” says Fred Koplin, senior director of consumer sales for Yokohama Tire Corp. “The recent storms have reinforced the safety factors needed for driving in these conditions. As these are all fresh in the consumers’ mind, they should aid in this year’s winter tire sales.”
Representatives from both Toyo Tire Canada and Bridgestone Americas agree that the harsh winter will help sales this coming season.
“After experiencing one of the most severe winters on record, consumers tend to appreciate the value of using winter tires and gradually more consumers will be willing to make the investment,” says Dave Scheklesky, director of marketing for Toyo Tire Canada.
Yes, it might still be warm across the U.S. and parts of Canada, but this is the season for tire dealers to calculate their winter tire inventory needs and brush up on their winter tire knowledge to help improve the sales and bottom line.
“Education is key,” says Anant Gandhi, winter tire product manager at Bridgestone Americas. “When it comes down to it, the more consumers know about the performance and safety benefits associated with winter tires, the more they’ll want to switch.”
One myth tire dealers deal constantly with is the belief that all-season tires are made for wintry conditions. In fact, winter tires are specially designed to perform in cold temperatures, as well as different winter weather and traction conditions. All-season tires are not.
Gandhi notes that dealers should talk about the different technology and rubber compounds used in winter tires versus those common to all-season and summer tires, and explain how those technologies work.
“Consumers aren’t stupid, they want to know why things work. Especially why one tire works better than something they’re already using,” he says.
When it comes to the latest technology in winter tires, manufacturers continue to focus on compound enhance- ments that allow the rubber to remain pliable in cold temperatures. Tiremakers are also deploying new construction features that help the tire get as much contact area as possible on the road’s surface in wet, dry, icy and slushy conditions.
Toyo’s Scheklesky says dealers should “frame” for customers the idea that winter tires are actually “cold-weather tires;” if you can see your breath it’s time for winter tires.
“When temperatures drop below 7˚C (44˚F), the rubber on all-season tires begins to stiffen,” he says. “Winter tires are engineered with softer compounds that help to maintain their elasticity, even at extremely low temperatures.”
He noted that by installing four winter tires on a car, the vehicle will have up to 50% more traction than all-season tires at temperatures below 44˚F.
To illustrate the difference between all-season and winter tires, Yokohama’s Koplin suggests dealers use real-world examples to explain the need and importance of winter tires in wintry conditions.
“The best example I have seen employed by a salesperson is to have two shoes on display – a high-heeled woman’s dress shoe and a basketball shoe. The salesperson would explain that technically, both can be worn by the same person, but each is better suited for their own purpose and conditions, and you wouldn’t want to wear one in the other’s situation,” he explains. The same can be said for winter and all-season tires.
Another myth that dealers must combat is the notion that 4×4 or AWD vehicles will handle any winter condition – regardless of tires.
“It’s called ‘all-wheel drive’ and not ‘all-wheel stop’ for a reason. Technology like all-wheel drive, antilock brakes, even the most advance electronic stability control, can’t do its job if the tires aren’t maintaining their grip on the road surface,” reminds Bridgestone’s Gandhi. “At the end of the day, tires are the only things that provide the actual traction, all the other various technologies take advantage of the grip the tires provide.”
One final challenge dealers have to overcome in the sale of winter tires is price.
Gandhi tells dealers to think of price in this way: “For about a $1.47 a day, less than the cost of a morning latte, you can have piece of mind knowing you’re prepared for any winter condition,” he says.
Dealers looking for more information to help educate their customers about winter tires can visit different tire manufacturer’s sites. Additionally, some dealers in more suburban locations will install winter rubber on their courtesy vehicles and will use them for live demos with curious customers.
Bridgestone points to its Conquer the Cold campaign for consumer info. Information on the campaign can be found at bridgestonetire.com/
Yokohama offers dealers winter tire training through its EXCEED program and has informational brochures available on its website. Additionally, the tiremaker has videos about winter tires on its YouTube channel – you can access the video here, bit.ly/WinTire.
Nearly every other tiremaker offers similar sales aids and demonstration materials.
Understand Your Region
It’s also important for dealers to know and understand the winter tire laws in their area. And keep in mind: You may think you know the law, but things change.
For example, since 2008, drivers in Quebec had to run on true winter tires between Dec. 15 and the following March 15. But this year, provincial officials added clarity, and now define “winter tires” as those that “bear the pictogram representing a mountain with a superimposed snowflake; or are equipped with studs and be used in accordance with the regulation respecting the use of non-skid devices on the tires of certain road vehicles.”
And where drivers with LT-metric tires did not have to change over in mid-December, the law changed this year and LT-metric tires are no longer exempt.
It’s smart to check your state or provincial regulations each year to make sure to stay up to date.
Toyo’s Scheklesky also notes that in Ontario, some insurance companies offer premium reductions to consumers who install winter tires. This can be an extra selling point for dealers.
Manitoba Public Insurance now offers consumers a Winter Tire Financing Program to help eligible Manitoba Public Insurance customers finance the purchase of winter tires. While only about 18% of Manitoba drivers use winter tires, this unique program could be a boon for dealers there. More information can be obtained by writing [email protected]
Different regions within both the U.S. and Canada also have legislation regarding the use of studded winter tires. Dealers should defer to their state/priovincial/regional jurisdictions for more info.
Dealers should also pay close attention to the type of winter weather in their area in order to suggest the right studless or studded winter tires to their customers.
“Studded tires improve winter performance when used in cold temperatures, generally below 32˚F (0˚C), and in regions that experience continuous and heavy snowfall,” Scheklesky says.
Bridgestone’s Gandhi shares that studded winter tires work best in icy conditions, but noted that many new studless tires provide traction as good as or better than studded tires.
“Contrary to popular belief, modern studless winter tires are capable of providing better ice and snow traction than studded tires which use metal studs for traction,” he says.
Whether a customer should install studded winter tires comes down to preference and laws in the area, as studs can damage pavement, the tire companies note.
Fully Service Customers
Tire dealers can also provide other products and services when they sell winter tires to customers.
Besides tire chains made of metal and high-impact plastic – suitable for short-term use especially in certain mountainous regions – any opportunity to install new tires gives dealers an opportunity to deliver more service to customers.
“There is always a service aspect to getting a vehicle up on the lift, which gives the service department another opportunity to inspect the vehicle to ensure it meets all safety standards,” Yokohama’s Koplin says.
Dealers may offer their customers an option of a tire hotel – a place to store summer or winter tires during their off-seasons. Some stores offer this as a part of the purchase, while others charge $50-$60 for storage, Scheklesky adds. Of course, the dealer needs to have a place to store the tires, so keep that in mind with your winter tire marketing plans.
Dealers can also offer customers tire storage racks, or a secondary set of wheels for their winter tires. Then there is a second set of TPMS sensors that will be needed for a separate set of winter tires and wheels.
With the sale of winter tires, dealers can offer free mounting/rebalancing and more, and offer the same road hazard coverage they provide for summer and all-season tires. This past winter also tore up roadways, leaving monster potholes that killed thousands of tires, leaving angry drivers with empty wallets.
The opportunities are endless, Gandhi of Bridgestone says.
So, while the cold weather seems far off, make sure to prepare your inventory and strategy now for the coming winter.