These days you can buy just about anything over the Internet and have it delivered in 24 hours. But tires? How can a customer know he’s getting the right tires for his truck? To find out, I contacted Woody Rogers, product information specialist at Tire Rack, an outfit that has been selling tires since 1979.
“Sure, most little things can be delivered overnight, but that’s not so common for tires,” he says. “They’re a lot heavier, take up more storage space, and have infinitely more options than choosing a flat-screen TV or a cell phone. Warehousing and delivery can be challenging as well. To make sure we can deliver most product to most customers in one business day, we’re heavily invested in deeply stocking all the sizes and patterns from the 20 major tire brands we sell. Our footprint spans nine distribution centers strategically located across the continental U.S., enabling us to serve nearly 90 percent of the population with one-day delivery service. There are some areas in the central west and a few other spots that are less densely populated. These typically take two business days for us to deliver.
“As for getting the right tire, we have tools and people in place to make that easy. It starts with what fits the vehicle, followed by how it is going to be used. Tires are not like, say gasoline, which is easy to commoditize. Here, you simply shop for the lowest price because it all works the same. Your tire choice, however, affects every aspect of how your truck or SUV drives, rides, and performs. I’m talking about a smooth and quiet ride, unstoppable traction on any surface, rugged dependability offroad, and long tread life. The list goes on and on. While many drivers have common needs, we find that what fits best with how, what, and where people drive can become a very personal combination. Our online database and decision-guide tools help point the way, and when you talk with a member of our in-house sales team, they will provide the guidance needed to make the right choice. After all, it will be a marriage between tire and vehicle and driver that usually lasts three to five years, so it better be the right choice.”
Some potential customers just might see you as an online warehouse. But Tire Rack is more than that, right?
“Tire Rack began selling tires back in 1979. Our ‘mail order’ division started up soon after, long before there was an Internet. We’ve built a massive database of experience, vehicle-fitment information, driver feedback on what tires work best (or worst) for their needs, and established the best training program for our sales team so they are the most knowledgeable tire guys you will talk to. Our team spends plenty of time away from the phone or keyboard to hone their skills and knowledge with continuing education and time behind the wheel evaluating tires.”
Tell me a bit about the tire-testing process. How important is this to a customer—and to the overall success of Tire Rack?
“Our tire-testing program began in the mid-1990s. It is unique in the industry, and our comparative tests focused on similar products can help you as you consider your next purchase. Our sales people form the core of our testers, and it’s a large enough group that the quantity and range of feedback we get mirrors the diversity found in the real world with ordinary drivers. This gives them invaluable first-hand experience with the products we sell, so when a customer asks for a personal recommendation, our team can properly match up the tire’s characteristics with the customer’s priorities. Anyone can regurgitate the marketing points printed by a manufacturer, but our team can give product insight and first-hand experience that is unrivaled in the business. For drivers who don’t get to talk with one of our sales team members, we compile the test results and publish the information and summary on our website for all to see. This is just one area we know to be a driver of our success in the tire industry.
“We normally test new products in the market alongside best in class, popular, and past test winners. We find our comparison test results mirrors the long-term consumer satisfaction ratings we collect and display in another area of our website. Think early indicator of long-term success, or mediocrity, or failure. Not all tires are great, or even good. Some are average at best. We test so our customer’s don’t have to feel like a guinea pig.”
How does a customer rep help a customer find the right tire?
“It starts with knowing the vehicle, what are the worst or most extreme conditions to be driven through, and what are the priorities for the new tires. We ask a lot of questions, listen, and make a targeted recommendation. It’s not about selling what is on the shelf as presumably the best tire for you. We have pretty much everything worth considering available, so then it becomes about the driver and what they need their tires to do for them. Once we know that, it’s easy, thanks to our knowledge, training, and hands-on experience.”
What if a customer doesn’t like the tires he ordered?
“Unfortunately, trying out new tires isn’t as easy as trying samples at the ice-cream store. Thankfully, real dissatisfaction doesn’t happen very often. If we do our job right in guiding the selection to what fits the needs best, then the driver simply enjoys tens of thousands of miles of happy wheeling. If not, there is a growing number of tire manufacturers that offer short-term buy-and-try support, so the tires could be returned if not satisfactory. But considering what it takes to get tires changed, its not as easy as sending your steak back for a little more time on the grill, so we work hard to make sure your final selection is the perfect option for your needs. Get it right the first time.”
An old saying in vehicle testing is “when the rubber meets the road,” meaning what happens when you actually drive the product. To see just how well Tire Rack delivers, I had Tire Rack send a set of BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 tires to a Montana hunter who drives a 2013 Ram 1500, with 5.7-liter V8 and 8-speed transmission. Harry Marvin spends as much time as possible in the backcountry, where by his own admission he “beats the snot” out of equipment.
“All in all, these tires are awesome,” Marvin says. “I needed aggressive tires for all my hunting and fishing, but I also needed good onroad performance. We have a winner here. As a one-vehicle man, I use the truck to commute to work, run errands in town, take road trips, haul firewood, and tow trailers. On my time off, I spend a lot of time on nasty roads.”
What follows is a list of Marvin’s observations on the performance of his new tires.
*I have put about 8,500 miles on them since installation. I’d estimate a 70/30 split of onroad to offroad use.
*Getting them was a breeze. Tire Rack provided tracking numbers for each tire, and they arrived as scheduled. I made an appointment with their affiliate, and I had the new tires on the truck in no time.
*First impression was that they are more aggressive than my previous tires (Goodyear Prograde Silent Armor). They had deep cuts for main treads and additional sidewall treading. *I have not noticed an increase in noise.
*There are some winding dirt roads around home here, and I pushed them a bit during archery season. I was able to head into the hills easily in 2WD, though at times the tires would spin on the very dry dirt when heading up inclines. Traction on corners is great. In places I would have fishtailed with previous rubber, these held the road.
*In rain, I have driven at highway speeds with no concerns about slowing down due to a slipping tire.
*I have not seen a decrease in MPG. On a recent trip in and around the Bitterroot Valley I averaged 16.9 mpg on the highway portion. The truck was about half full of gear. I cruised around 74 mph when able. Over the weekend, I went offroad and hammered through mud. I figure the offroad portion, in 4WD, was a little more than 200 miles. All in all, I drove 1,027 miles. The tires handled the offroad portion well, and on the road they were surprisingly quiet.
*Mud: I have had the truck in the mud a few times and have not been stuck, though I have come very close. There was one hill in particular where another truck struggled to get up–they had to back down without going over the side and get a longer running start. I had my truck in 4WD, turned off the traction control, and surfed my way up the hill in one shot. The tires spun significantly in the slick gumbo, but I never lost forward momentum. They flung mud all over the wheel wells, side of the truck, and some even onto the roof of the bed cap. As soon as I drove onto portions of road that did not add mud to the tires, they would clean right out.
*Rocks: The truck has done great in the Sapphire Mountains on the rocky Forest Service roads. Some have very sharp rocks for miles and there are no noticeable cuts, scrapes, or gouges at this time. There have been no leaks, and they maintain the same air as they day they were installed. (tirerack.com).