Selling Off-Road Tires: Lessons from the U.S. Border Patrol - Tire Review Magazine

Selling Off-Road Tires: Lessons from the U.S. Border Patrol

Tire manufacturers are increasingly prioritizing higher-value tire lines, many of which are often in higher-diameter tire sizes.

It’s hot outside. A really particular brand of heat that you might only experience in places like Death Valley. But, in this case, I’m in South Texas. In fact, I’m about as far south as you can get before running into the Rio Grande River that separates Del Rio, Texas, from Ciudad Acuña, Mexico. I’m sitting in my rented Toyota Camry with the windows up, A/C blasting and Tom Petty on the radio when I find myself surrounded. On all sides of me are pickup trucks the likes of which this Ohioan has never seen before. We have pickup trucks in Ohio, but not quite like this. And, like any good tire guy, I’m interested in one thing and one thing only: what tires are these guys running on these gigantic trucks?

I glance down and I’m staring at something I’ve never seen before. My company, K&M Tire, a tire distributor based in northwest Ohio, sells Yokohama tires, but even I’ve never heard of a Geolandar X-MT. I must have looked confused as I glanced back up, only to make eye contact with a U.S. Border Patrol agent with a big grin on his face and an M4 Carbine assault rifle in the gun rack behind the front seat.

Some vehicles are built for show; some are strictly built for a purpose. But, for these heavily-armed U.S. Border Patrol agents, their specific tire application demanded a tire I had never even seen before. 

Before I continue, I need to be clear about something. K&M Tire does sell Yokohama tires, but we also sell 52 other tire brands. So, for you, maybe it’s not Yokohama and that’s okay. But, my challenge for you today is to think about some of the benefits that come with being known as a destination for enthusiast tire consumers in your market.

Contrast Leads to Differentiation

There’s a quote I like from a pretty smart marketing guy named Seth [Godin], entrepreneur and best-selling author, and it goes like this: “Fitting in is a short-term strategy that gets you nowhere. Standing out is a long-term strategy that takes guts and produces results.” 

Consumers today have more choices than ever before, so I don’t need to tell you that the tire industry is competitive. There’s a tiny town in Kansas where the grocery store and the local auto repair shop both sell the same brands of tires and compete against one another from directly across the street. 

The bottom line is: There is no nobility in mediocrity or fitting in. Leading tire retailers like you understand the value of standing out in a positive way. In fact, whether or not your business thrives in the next decade will depend on your ability to execute well on this principle—stand out or stand down.

Back in the fall of 2015, one tire maker released a special edition of its A/T tire with a camouflage sidewall design. A little over a year later, another tire brand partnered with the University of Alabama to release a Crimson Tide limited edition version of the same tire. Since then, a different manufacturer even marketed tires for other popular college football programs.

Partnerships like these are great for headlines and catering to consumers who are passionate about their vehicles and are also fanatics about their favorite football teams. The same person who might be inclined to spend $4,000 on a set of custom wheels and tires for their F-150 may be the same person who worships at the shrine of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban, but these short-term gimmicks rarely move the needle in a meaningful way.

Trends, on the other hand, are often much more meaningful and have stronger staying power. The Falken Wildpeak M/T, for example, comes equipped with a three-ply sidewall along with two high-ply turn-ups, giving the tire an equivalent five-ply strength in the sidewall. That doesn’t necessarily mean that more consumers are destroying sidewalls as they traverse off-road through their ranch land, but it does prove helpful as their F-350 hauls a 10,000-pound boat trailer at 85 mph down the scorching hot highway for a summer weekend at the lake.

Falken Wildpeak MT
The Falken Wildpeak M/T comes equipped with a three-ply sidewall along with two high-ply turn-ups, giving the tire an equivalent five-ply strength in the sidewall, TR Columnist Jeff Wallick says.

The Goodyear Wrangler MT/R isn’t for every type of consumer, but it is for the person willing to spend $80,000 on a brand-new Chevy Silverado 2500. That truck may never dip a toe off-road, but that consumer may appreciate that the tires come equipped with the same material in the sidewall that is commonly used in bulletproof vests worn by the military and police. 

Gimmicks Fade, But Trends Stick 

As of the time of this writing, I believe we’re standing at a precipice between what was and what will be, and the last 12-18 months have been an inflection point in the tire industry. At the same time that the average age of vehicles on the road in the U.S. continues to climb to new all-time highs, the average sticker price of a brand-new full-size pickup truck ticked up 7% from 2020 to above $56K this year, according to analysts at Kelly Blue Book. Whether a consumer is in the market for a 2010 F-150 or the brand-new ‘22 model that’s pushing up to a six-figure price tag, many consumers are more conscious than ever before about the look of their vehicle and that attention to detail increasingly includes their tires. And, as tried and true tire people, that’s where we come in.

Just ask my colleagues at K&M Tire, who have experience in this arena. “We’re seeing a greater focus on selling higher value light truck tires because there’s a real demand for it,” says K&M Tire Marketing Director Dave Miller. “Consumers are asking for more rugged tires, and we see that demand in our sales data.”

Tires like the aforementioned Falken Wildpeak M/T and Yokohama Geolandar M/T feature offset shoulder blocks and aggressive sidewall styling for extra off-road traction. A rare balance of combining form with function, and that’s something in which leading tire dealers and enthusiast consumers see value. 

Where Supply Meets Demand

In today’s difficult climate of product availability issues, tire manufacturers are increasingly prioritizing higher-value tire lines, many of which are often in higher-diameter tire sizes. 

“From a purchasing and inventory perspective, availability is tight across the board, but we are seeing notably better availability on these higher-value tire lines from just about all of the tire manufacturers we work with,” says K&M Tire Vice President of Purchasing Mark Knippen. “Tire manufacturers are prioritizing many of the same higher-value tire lines that consumers are increasingly demanding. That’s an ultra-rare win/win/win scenario and one worthy of our attention.”

Looking ahead, it doesn’t require much foresight to see that the landscape of the automotive industry is fundamentally shifting. The type of consumer likely to drop $70K+ on a brand-new Rivian R1T all-electric pickup truck is likely to be just as discerning about the look and performance of their tires as their battery range.

The brand new Rivian R1T all-electric pickup truck costs upwards of $65,000 and can reach up to a range of 314 miles when paired with 21-inch wheels.

Where gimmicks are short-term, recognizing and capitalizing on trends like these can mean the difference between your business thriving or simply surviving in the coming years.

And, as for those U.S. border patrol trucks with the Yokohama X-MTs, it turns out that they came from a local independent tire dealer. Like any good tire guy, I had to find out more. And, I was apparently not the only person in town to notice what the border patrol trucks were running because the owner of that independent dealer later told me he couldn’t keep enough of those Yokohama X-MTs in stock.

Some vehicles are built for show; others are built to be run hard. And, for many of these enthusiast consumers, they demand the best of both worlds along with an aggressive sidewall. And, they’ll get it too; either from you or your competitor down the street. The question is: will you be the one to earn that sale or not?

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