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Taking Dead Aim: Preparation is Secret to Birdies in Growing Golf-Course Tire Segment

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Most professional golfers will tell you that practice is the key to improving one’s golf swing. “The more often you play, the better you get,” they say.

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That may be true, but preparation is even more important. If you don’t have the right tools – the right woods and irons and golf balls – you can’t play the game at all.

The same can be said about the golf-course tire business. There’s money to be made in this specialty tire market, but planning is critical. You need the right tools to really score.

Determining what the right tools are doesn’t have to be difficult. Just like other specialty tire customers, golf-course tire buyers, too, have specific needs. Success depends on learning the course and making the shots.

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Expanding Opportunity

“There is an excellent opportunity for tire dealers who are in the vicinity of golf courses to do business with those courses,” says Vanessa Savage, territory sales manager at Greenball Corp.

She’s not just talking about golf carts. “Golf courses usually have dozens of golf carts, riding mowers, utility carts and maintenance vehicles,” she says. “All of these vehicles will need new tires eventually, and a tire dealer that can service these needs can gain an excellent source of sales.”

Perhaps more than ever, opportunities for independent dealers are emerging in this market, according to Steven V. Richardson, regional manager at Duro Tire & Wheel. “The trend that we see is for golf courses to look not at the OEM service parts department, but to tire dealers to get the best price on aftermarket tires,” he notes.

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Golf courses aren’t the only sources of tire dealer profits. Richardson encourages tire dealers to consider golf-cart refurbishing companies as potential customers, too. “The golf-cart aftermarket is in need of replacement tires for refurbishing,” he explains.

Carl Miller, sales manager for Monitor Manufacturing, a subsidiary of specialty tire manufacturer Kenda USA, also sees substantial opportunities for tire dealers to make money in the golf course business. “As the baby boomers are starting to retire, and seniors are living longer, we are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of large golfing communities,” he says.

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Buyer Wish List

So, what do these golf-course tire buyers want from a tire?

Some things can be considered no-brainers. For instance, it’s obvious that course maintenance departments have to maintain the clean, aesthetic appearance of the grounds, so turf damage is unacceptable. That’s especially true in high-end, private communities. That said, though, these customers still want a durable tire that can withstand the rigors of regular use. So, a tough, durable yet gentle tire is a good start.

Boyd Sharp, a technician at Shawnee Hills Golf Course in Bedford, Ohio, buys golf-cart tires and smooth tires for his greens mowers. While he doesn’t have a particular brand or tread preference, he has a few key items on his wish list. “I want a four-ply over a two-ply,” he says. “I want them to be tough, but I don’t want them to harm the grass.”

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Sharp isn’t alone. Many – if not all – course maintenance departments work hard at reducing and preventing turf damage. In fact, Savage says Greenball’s Sawtooth, Greensaver and Soft Turf tires have been popular with these customers because their tread designs won’t “tear up the turf when rolling across fairways, greens and landscaped areas,” she says.

Another big concern for Sharp – who, by the way, does his own tire mounting and repair – is durability and puncture resistance. “We have a lot of hawthorns on our course, so I have to plug tires almost every week,” he says. “It’s an ongoing process.”

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Some concerns aren’t as obvious. For example, one wouldn’t normally think of style and looks as chief concerns of those buying golf-course tires. But, according to Miller, a common element in both large retirement communities and golfing communities is the use of the “golf car” as the daily driver.

People are using golf cars as personal transportation vehicles within those communities, Miller says, and some of those golf cars may never see a golf course.

That means “the trend is toward things like aluminum wheels and low-profile tires to improve the cosmetics of the personal car,” Miller says. Kenda offers several aluminum-wheel designs that pair up with its 205/50-10 Pro Tour tire. “The Pro Tour has been a great success, especially when mated with a sporty-looking aluminum wheel,” says Miller.

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Richardson adds: “Tire dealers have a great opportunity to add to their bottom lines with so many people buying golf carts for transportation and leisure activities,” he says. And, like youthful tuners, they want to customize those carts with all kinds of aftermarket parts.

Availability is Key

As with almost anything, competitive pricing is a must. But perhaps more important to these commercial customers is supply and selection. A tire dealer’s best bet, according to experts, is to inventory just a few popular sizes but keep a distributor or wholesaler on call, ready to respond to special orders at a moment’s notice.

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“Golf-course tire buyers are looking for a good, steady and available supply of tires,” Greenball’s Savage confirms.

Sharp has been tapping North Gateway Tire in Medina, Ohio, for golf-cart and mower tires for the past four or five years. He says he has remained loyal to North Gateway for so many years mostly because of the dealership’s wide selection of golf-course tires.

“When I’m calling for tires, it means I don’t have them, and I need to get that equipment out there,” says Sharp. “North Gateway has everything I need,” he says. In rare situations in which North Gateway doesn’t have a tire in stock, the dealership orders it, and Sharp usually gets it in two or three days, he says.

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It’s evident that smart inventory planning is crucial to success in this business. So, how does a dealer new to the market decide what clubs, er, tires to carry? Miller offers this advice: “To get started, a dealer may want to carry just the standard 18×850-8 four-ply golf-car tire.” One Kenda tire that fits this description is the K389 Hole-N-One, he adds.

Savage says dealers should investigate their local markets to determine the sizes and types of tires used by the courses in their areas. She points out, though, that sizes such as 18×8.50-8, 18.5×8.50-8 and 205/50-10 are common everywhere. “High-demand sizes and tread designs are good places to start inventory planning,” says Savage.

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She also recommends getting tire usage forecasts from golf course customers and placing orders with vendors and distributors accordingly. “Most of the tires for this market are manufactured overseas, so distributors often need long lead times,” adds Savage.

Miller recommends that dealers monitor the OE market. “OEMs like Club Car and Yamaha thoroughly test all tires and wheels before certifying them to be used on their vehicles,” Miller explains. “From the dealer standpoint, knowing the tire has passed testing for the OEM market should help to sell it in the aftermarket.”

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“Find a reliable supplier of tires,” Richardson suggests. “Look to the manufacturers for help finding a reliable distributor in the area.” Richardson says Duro can assist tire dealers by referring them to distributors across the U.S.

When all is said and done, golf-course tire profits aren’t difficult to come by, as long as dealers do their homework first. “Learn the market and gather as much information as possible from vendors, manufacturers and customers alike,” Savage says.

In other words, prepare. Then, as Harvey Penick said: Take dead aim!

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