Consumer Education: Winter Wise

Blogger moms (l-r) Nicole Brady,; Sadie Lankford,; Melissa Au,; Tiffany Grisdale, try out large tricycles equipped with winter tires at a Bridgestone event. (Photo: Bridgestone)

Blogger moms (l-r) Nicole Brady,; Sadie Lankford,; Melissa Au,; Tiffany Grisdale, try out large tricycles equipped with winter tires at a Bridgestone event. (Photo: Bridgestone)

Are consumers warming up to the winter tire message?

As soon as the temperatures drop, Canadians across the country start getting ready for winter. Parkas and boots come out of storage, furnaces are checked, gutters are cleared, shrubs are wrapped, and the snow shovel is reluctantly dusted off.

But what about the car? More importantly, what about the tires? “Canadians are more educated about the benefits of winter tires, likely due to Quebec’s legislation,” observes Anant Gandhi, Bridgestone Product Manager. “But even then, people often wait until they absolutely have to to get winter tires.”

He believes the key is for everyone – dealers, retailers, media – to educate consumers on the benefits of winter tires vs their summer and all-season counterparts. “Focus on the technology that goes into winter tires,” Gandhi says, “the compound and the tread patterns that make them work better in cold temperatures.” It’s a matter of explaining the technology, and the differences between winter tires 20 years ago, and modern tires.

“Years ago, we used to rely on metal studs that would actually dig into ice to provide that traction – that’s no longer the case,” notes Gandhi. “We have advanced compounds that can surpass the performance of studs.”

Courting the blogger moms

But how do you get the message out? In the case of Bridgestone, they’ve gone beyond traditional media and are courting social media influencers like the so-called “blogger moms” These are tech-savvy women who have developed a significant online presence by blogging about parenting and family friendly issues and products.

According to Gandhi, over 50% of major household purchase decisions are made by women. “We want to make sure that they’re communicated with, that they feel comfortable going into a tire shop and speaking confidently,” he says. “They’re the safety-oriented consumers that are more likely to be inclined to switch over to winter tires.”

To that end, Bridgestone invited a number of bloggers to Denver, Colorado, where they put car tires on large tricycles and invited them to go for a spin. “We put all-season tires on one and our Blizzak WS80 tires on another….letting the moms try out the trikes on the ice, so they could see the difference,” says Gandhi. “With the Blizzak, they can get the grip they want, they can stop when they want – not like the all-season tires, which are spinning out of control.” That’s the type of innovative exercise that Bridgestone is developing, to impress upon influencers how much of a difference winter tires can make.

“The industry folks understand,” says Gandhi. “They’re not the ones we have to convince. The bloggers are people who might not know about the benefits, or even think about it.”

Segment is up considerably

Jeff Bullock, Operations Director for Hankook Tire Canada, notes that there are extensive resources online for retailers and consumers with the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada. “We’re a member of the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada, along with other manufacturers, and we put a lot of time and effort into promoting the winter tire segment,” he says. “We’ve even got messages on the digital signs along highways.” Also, Hankook marketing reps have passed out specific marketing tools, posters and pamphlets to the retailers to help educate consumers about the benefits of winter tires.

He feels that consumers are getting the message. “They’re getting smarter, with internet usage,” says Bullock. “We’ve got data that shows the winter tire segment is up considerably.”

And Bullock sees a new trend for the season – light truck all-terrain tires that now sport the mountain snowflake symbol on the sidewall. “A lot of pickup trucks that don’t want a traditional winter tire can opt for our all-terrain tires, that now meet the standard, even in Quebec,” he says.

Qualifying for the mountain snowflake symbol isn’t just about the compound, it’s also about stopping distance. “This is a new segment for us, and not all manufacturers have it,” Bullock explains. “We redeveloped our Dynapro AT-M. You can run this tire all year round, from the summer into the winter.”

He also says that it’s important to remind consumers how much winter tire technology has changed. “These tires are much more sophisticated than they were 10 years ago,” Bullock explains. “A lot of research is done to continually improve them. Modern winter tires are less noisy, provide better performance, have longer treadwear and have stud capabilities, if the province allows it.”

Quebec legislation made a difference

At Yokohama, Market Planning Manager Phillip Diogenes credits the Quebec legislation around winter tires for raising awareness about their importance across the country. “While weather is a big factor, the Quebec winter tire legislation did help generate a big spike in winter tire sales over a two-year period at the time,” he notes. However, given this spike in sales, the market may be moving in a cycle – as attention around the legislation dropped off, those consumers who had invested in winter tires could look forward to enjoying them for a number of years.

“Now, we’re a few years after that legislation, which was passed in 2008, and we’re starting to see the market potentially pick up again,” notes Diogenes. “If consumers purchased winter tires in 2008 or 2009 during the strong years, these same consumers may now be ready to purchase a replacement set.”

It’s difficult to define a winter tire’s product life, as there are many variables. The average Canadian drives about 20,000 kilometres annually, but it also depends on how the tires are being used, for example, highway vs city driving. “Some people may have put them on earlier and have them on longer,” says Diogenes. “But on the average, consumers can get a good three or four years out of winter tires before they start considering a replacement set.”

Retail, at the ready

And stores are ready, thanks to account managers who have provided support material to better inform consumers. “One of the biggest opportunities is for those tire retailers who also do auto service and repair,” says Diogenes. “When cars come in for an oil change or other scheduled maintenance, technicians can inspect the tires to ensure they are fit for winter weather.”

If the customer has 4-season tires, or if their tires are nearing the end of their tread life, it’s the perfect time to start a conversation about winter tires. “It’s important to emphasize the benefits in cold weather, not just in snow,” Diogenes advises. “Once the temperature dips below 7°C a 4-season tire’s tread compound will begin to harden, making them less effective in cold temperatures”.

“And remember, it’s not just about the tire. It’s about safety.”

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