Skid-Steer Market on the Rebound as Construction Restarts - Tire Review Magazine

Skid-Steer Market on the Rebound as Construction Restarts

The versatility of skid-steer loaders opens the door to a wide array of potential tire customers.

From construction, farming and forestry to landscaping and snow removal – and many, many areas in between – the applications for the hardy machines are nearly endless. Yet despite such application diversity, tire dealers who participate in this niche segment can keep skid- steer customers coming back by offering some general knowledge and mastering a few overarching strategies.

As with many tire segments, the skid-steer tire market reached a peak in 2007 and early 2008, right before the economic downturn, according to Robyn Conrad, ag marketing director for Michelin North America. “As with many products, the skid-steer tire market, as well as the equip­ment market, dropped rapidly,” she says. “However, a rebound has begun and the market is gaining some strength.”

Conrad adds Michelin expects the market will continue to grow, though not at the pace of the early 2000s. She cites a recent Bloomberg report that stated builders broke ground on more single-family houses for a third consecutive month in May and rising construction permits pointed to further gains, showing the residential real estate market is weathering the U.S. economic slowdown.

Roger Johnson, strategic accounts manager for Carlisle Tire &Wheel Co., also points to the uptick in housing starts and construction recovery in general as important indicators of the health of the skid-steer market in coming years.

In addition to economic hardships, “the countervailing duties on China-produced tires also caused considerable turmoil in the market since their enactment in 2008,” John­son explains. “The net result has been a shift to tire production in Asian countries other than China and only a small increase in U.S.-produc­ed tires.”

He notes Carlisle is continuing to increase its U.S.-based production in its new plant in Jackson, Tenn.
Globally, the skid-steer market is growing fastest in “developing countries and countries whose economies are doing well,” says Minoo Mehta, director of commercial tire marketing for Hercules Tire & Rubber Co., who adds that at this time there are no shortages, with supply amply meeting demand.

While Mehta notes the market still is predominantly bias ply and low price segment, there is a shift occurring.

Hugo Morales, product marketing manager for Michelin’s mining segment, says the newest advancement in skid-steer tire technology is radial design. He adds Michelin’s Bibsteel combines radial technology, steel belts and steel sidewall construction, allowing the tire to last “at least two times as long as bias technology, depending on the situation.”

In addition to radialization, there also has been movement toward foam-filled or solid tires. According to Charlie Cohen, who co-owns Bensenville, Ill.-based Industrial Tire Solutions with partner Mike Pollini, today’s solid tires are comprised either of a tire molded to a wheel as a one-piece assembly, or press-on types that fit onto a customer’s OE flat-based wheel. 

“Many have tough ‘mining grade’ rubber compounds, which offer extremely long wear and a soft ride,” Cohen says. “Some of these solid tires claim to offer up to two to three times the wear of a pneumatic or foam-filled tire.”

Hercules’ Mehta adds that several other innovations also play a part in today’s skid-steer tire technology, including reinforced body plies; a “recap dam,” or additional belt ply under the tread for reinforcement; extra deep treads; and chip- and cut-resistant tread compounding.

Skid-steer machines themselves are trending toward even more versatility, with new tools and attachments for specialized use. Carlisle’s Johnson says, “Regularly being introduced are new tools that add to the versatility of the machines. For example, you almost never see a man with a jackhammer breaking up concrete at a construction site anymore. This work is now most often done with a skid-steer with a ‘breaker’ mounted on its boom. These breakers are bigger and more powerful, and thus much more productive.”

Customers and Service
As varied as skid-steer uses are, tire customers in this segment generally seek the same attributes: “Most skid steer customers look for a tire that will give them value and life in the long run,” Cohen says.

That often boils down to reinforced sidewalls, the ability to fight lug tearing, a strong casing for retreading, a robust appearance and price, according to Mehta.

Higher hour users and large scale operators generally seek premium tires that offer added traction, life and uptime, Johnson explains, while “val­ue” tires usually are ideal for lower hour users, individual operators and used machine buyers. “On the premium end of the market, the tires are becoming increasingly heavy in order to carry larger loads and provide a longer life,” he notes.

Additional features skid-steer users seek in a tire include better stability, a smooth ride and turns, even tread wear, and a compound that prevents the tire from leaving marks on surfaces like concrete, Michelin’s Conrad says. “Owners of skid-steer loaders look at how the tire can benefit their unique operation,” she adds. “If the tire fails, the operation stops and that costs the owner money. The more hours the machine is working, the more revenue the skid-steer creates.”

When servicing skid-steer clients, tire dealers should note that replacement situations take two forms: plan­ned and unplanned. “Replacement for wear is often planned and the custo­mer has some time to think of what he wants in a tire,” Carlisle’s Johnson says. “However, often tires are damaged in a variety of ways, the purchase is unplanned, and replacement is needed immediately.”

In order to address unplanned rep­lacements, Cohen advises that dealers stock the most popular sizes during the early spring and into fall in snowbelt areas, as well as utilize well-stocked, nearby warehouses. “Skilled service technicians, competitive pricing and perhaps a ‘good, better, best’ pricing structure also may help, as there is plenty of competition in most markets,” he says.

Michelin’s Morales says dealers must keep in mind they are selling the ability for the skid-steer owner to increase revenue. “The more the machine runs, the more revenue the skid-steer owner makes,” he explains. “Dealers should realize they are business partners with the skid-steer owner and should advise the right pro­­duct for the right application, which equals high performance, repeat business – and most important, the trust and confidence of the skid-steer loader owner.”

Hercules’ Mehta adds that to stay on top of sizing trends, dealers should take note of “the OE fitments of today that will be replacement demand for tomorrow.”

The skid-steer market’s slow but steady growth, combined with a wide range of potential customers, offers ample opportunity for tire dealers to grow their bottom line.  

As construction rebounds following the economic downturn, sales of skid-steer loader units – and tires – have seen an uptick.

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