Overcoming Challenges in Wheel Manufacturing: A Guide for Small to Mid-Sized Wheel Businesses in the USA

Overcoming Challenges in Wheel Manufacturing

In the USA’s wheel manufacturing industry, small and mid-sized businesses face overwhelming challenges. Large manufacturers have more resources, a wider variety of products, and a stronger presence in the market.

Not to mention, you’re facing overseas competition who are intent on making it a “race to the bottom” in pricing.

So, how can you possibly compete as an up-and-coming wheel business?

For smaller, newer wheel companies, the key to success isn’t just a large inventory or trying to match the big players product-for-product. Instead, it’s about being nimble and quickly adapting to what customers want.. which can change rapidly.

Growing manufacturers need the flexibility to test out different wheel designs, sizes and shapes, to see how the market responds, without being weighed down by too much stock.

The successful small-mid sized manufacturers are finding clever ways to meet customer needs while keeping costs low and operations lean.

In this article, you’ll learn how small wheel manufacturers are leveraging “starter” wheel centers as a key component of their strategy. And how you can do the same by increasing flexibility in your product offerings, reducing lead times, and adapting swiftly to market demands.

Let’s dig in!

What is a Wheel Center?

A wheel center is crucial to the architecture of multi-piece wheels, where it acts as a key  component in building the wheel design.  It is fundamentally the centerpiece that secures to the hub, providing a base for the rest of the wheel’s components..

one piece vs multi piece wheels

Function and Form:

Wheel centers are essential for building two-piece and three-piece wheels. They are meticulously engineered to handle the vehicle’s load, efficiently transferring forces from the hub to the rest of the wheel assembly. 

Unlike one-piece wheels, where the wheel is forged from a single piece of metal for enhanced strength and simplicity, multi-piece wheels benefit from the adaptability of separate centers.

Multi-Piece Wheels:

In multi-piece configurations, such as two-piece and three-piece wheels, the centers are independent units that offer extensive customization opportunities. 

Two-piece wheels feature a center that is bolted to the rim, allowing for diverse design and finish options. 

Three-piece wheels expand on this flexibility, with centers that are bolted to both inner and outer rim sections, enabling adjustments in wheel width and further aesthetic customization.

Customization and Versatility:

The ability to customize wheel centers in multi-piece wheel constructions allows manufacturers to tailor products to specific fitment requirements and stylistic preferences. 

The Strategic Importance of Centers in Wheel Manufacturing:

Wheel centers are an especially important component for emerging manufacturers to consider. 

Versatile centers enable these businesses to swiftly adapt to market trends and customer preferences, facilitating the roll-out of varied designs without the need for extensive upfront investment in different molds or tools.

A note on Monoblock Wheels:

It’s important to note that monoblock, or one-piece wheels, do not feature a separate center but are instead made from one solid piece of metal. This construction is known for its strength and integrity, ideal for applications ranging from off-road and street vehicles to ATV/UTV and military uses. 

Although the focus of this article is on multi-piece wheels, our range also includes monoblock wheels to cater to all types of vehicle requirements.

What is a “Starter” Wheel Center (Center Forging)?

As a smaller manufacturer, the world of custom wheels can be incredibly difficult to navigate.

It’s just not efficient for you to order large volumes of custom wheel centers, when you haven’t even figured out what type of designs your market wants.

You need the flexibility to try out different designs – quickly and cost efficiently.

This is where starter wheel centers come into play, serving as a fundamental component for small and mid-sized manufacturers.

But what exactly is a starter wheel center, and why is it so crucial for these businesses?

Starter Wheel Center Definition

A starter wheel center, often referred to as a “generic center” or “combo center,” is a semi-finished product that forms the central part of a multi-piece wheel. 

Unlike wheel centers that are custom-designed for specific wheel types, starter centers are versatile blocks that can be machined into various shapes and sizes, depending on customer demands or market needs.

Doug Jones AST

“What Starter Center really means is the center is a generic center shaped a little more like a block.. it allows customers who have smaller projects to buy a center that will be good for multiple shapes.. So they can quickly try different designs.”

– Doug Jones, AST Forged Wheels

Generic Wheel Design Flexibility

Starter centers are designed to be universal in their raw form, resembling a simple block or rectangle. This basic shape allows manufacturers the ability to customize the center into multiple specific designs, such as concave, convex, or flat styles, using additional machining processes. 

This versatility is particularly valuable for manufacturers who need to respond quickly to changing market trends without committing to large inventories of specific parts.

Are Starter Wheel Centers Cost Effective?

If you’re a manufacturer that needs to order small volumes of versatile wheel centers then starter centers are absolutely the most cost effective option. 

Especially if you’re new to the market and have a limited budget, starter centers give you the ability to explore different market segments and customer preferences without the financial burden of producing multiple specialized molds or designs from scratch.

Once you’ve figured out your product market fit and you are ready to order large volumes of custom wheel centers for your most profitable designs, then you should graduate to near net shapes manufacturing

When the time comes.. Our high volume multi-piece wheel centers program will save you BIG time.

Wheel Market Entry and Testing

For new entrants in the wheel manufacturing industry, starter centers are an invaluable tool. They allow these companies to test the waters with various wheel designs without substantial initial investment or large minimum order volumes. This “trial and error” capability is crucial for discovering which designs resonate most with their target audience, thereby identifying the most viable product-market fit.

In essence, starter wheel centers are about providing manufacturers with the flexibility to innovate and adapt quickly. 

They support a lean manufacturing approach, where smaller, more frequent modifications to product lines can be made economically. This adaptability is particularly important in an industry characterized by rapid shifts in consumer preferences and intense competition.

The Starter Stocking Program: Revolutionizing Inventory Management for Wheel Manufacturers

We feel your pain.. There’s a LOT to overcome. 

But we’ve learned to never underestimate the determination of scrappy wheel manufacturers here in the USA!

And after extensive research into the market and discussions with some of the USA’s strongest up and coming manufacturers our team at AST Forged Wheels has built a solution specifically around your needs as a growing wheel business.

AST’s Starter Stocking Program addresses your challenges by providing pre-manufactured starter centers that can be quickly customized to meet specific demands at a competitive price.

Our standard wheel centers program is ideal for customers who have achieved product-market fit and are ready to order 50+ pieces at a time.

For everyone else?  Our starter stocking program is your absolute best option for wheel centers.

The “starter stocking” program allows manufacturers to maintain lean inventory levels, adapt swiftly to new orders, and reduce lead times. It supports you in competing against overseas production by allowing you to offer a wide range of customizable options quickly and efficiently, which is often a differentiation point against the mass-produced models typically offered by foreign competitors.

By using starter stocking strategically, you can navigate the complexities of a global market, transforming their constraints into opportunities for growth and innovation.

Case Study: How Curtis Speed Optimized Wheel Production Using the Starter Stocking Program

A standout example of the Starter Stocking Program’s success is seen with Curtis Speed, a specialty manufacturer known for custom wheels tailored to classic hot rod cars. 

Facing challenges common in the wheel manufacturing industry, such as fluctuating demand and the need for flexible inventory management, Curtis Speed found a solution in AST’s starter stocking program.

Curtis Speed’s Challenge

Curtis Speed struggled with suppliers who claimed to have centers in stock, but in reality weren’t able to deliver them quickly. This was a big problem. Curtis’ orders were growing quickly, so they needed to keep up with increases in demand in order to keep clients.

In order to grow, the business needed a supplier who could deliver quickly and within the business’s budget.

Implementing the Starter Program:

After adopting the Starter Stocking Program, Curtis Speed was able to significantly streamline their operation.

mike curtis founder of curtis speed

I was hitting a wall trying to keep up with all my custom orders – each one with a different spec. Then I got on board with AST’s Starter Stocking Program, and man, it’s like hitting the turbo button. We’re turning around custom jobs faster, without getting bogged down by parts we might never use. getting the right part, at the right time, without the runaround. Our customers are stoked, and so are we. It’s a solid win.” 

– Mike Curtis, Founder @ Curtis Speed

AST’s flexible stocking program meant they could order wheel centers in smaller, more frequent batches, allowing them to adjust quickly to changing customer preferences without overstocking.

The Results:

The immediate benefits were clear:

✅ Reduced Lead Times: Lead times were drastically cut from two weeks to just two days, enabling Curtis Speed to fulfill orders swiftly and reliably.

✅ Enhanced Customer Satisfaction: Quick turnaround times and the ability to offer diverse and customized products improved customer satisfaction and loyalty.

✅ Financial Upside: The first order under the new program included diverse designs totaling around $4,500—substantially larger than typical orders in this segment, reflecting both the demand and Curtis Speed’s newfound ability to meet it.

5 Benefits of Using ‘Starter’ Centers for Wheel manufacturing

Navigating the fast-paced and ever-changing demands of the wheel manufacturing market requires a level of flexibility that traditional production methods may not provide. As a small or mid-sized manufacturer, using ‘Starter’ Centers from AST can be your strategic advantage. 

Here’s how:

benefits of standard centers for wheel manufacturing1. Rapid Customization and Diverse Offerings

Starter centers are semi-finished wheel centers that you can quickly finalize according to specific customer demands. This flexibility allows you to offer a broad range of wheel types, from standard designs to unique, customized specifications, without the risks associated with large-scale production runs. Whether your customer wants a conventional look or a bespoke design, you can provide it quickly and efficiently.

2. Reduced Lead Times

One of the biggest advantages of utilizing starter centers is the substantial reduction in lead times. Since the centers are in stock and ready to be shipped. This rapid turnaround is crucial in an industry where delivery speed can set you apart from competitors, especially larger manufacturers who may not be able to match such responsiveness.

3. Lean Inventory Management

Maintaining a lean inventory is vital for managing cash flow and reducing holding costs, particularly critical for smaller businesses. With starter centers, you stock a versatile base product that can be adapted to various customer requirements. This versatility means you don’t need to overcommit financially by stocking multiple finished product lines, which may or may not meet current market demands.

4. Improved Market Responsiveness

The ability to quickly shift production according to market trends and customer feedback is a significant competitive edge. Starter centers allow you to trial new designs in the market without significant upfront investments. If a particular style gains traction, you can scale up production with confidence, knowing that the market has validated the design.

5. Higher Customer Satisfaction

By drastically reducing the time from order to delivery, you enhance customer satisfaction. Customers value quick service, particularly when it’s combined with the ability to customize products to their specifications. Happy customers are repeat customers, and they often bring new business through referrals.

3 Strategic Uses for Starter Centers

To maximize the benefits of using starter centers, consider the following strategies:

  1. Dynamic Product Testing

Regularly test new designs in small batches to capture market trends. This iterative approach not only keeps your offerings fresh but also minimizes the risk of large unsold inventories.

  1. Customer Feedback Loops

Establish strong feedback channels with your customers to understand their preferences and satisfaction levels. Use this data to adjust your offerings and processes continually.

  1. Supplier Relationships

Develop strong relationships with suppliers like AST to ensure you have reliable access to high-quality starter centers. This reliability will be crucial as you scale up or need to meet sudden increases in demand.

How to Get the Most from Your Starter Wheel Centers: 5 Steps for Manufacturers

Implementing starter centers into your production process can revolutionize how you respond to market demands and manage your inventory. Here are key actions to ensure you make the most out of this opportunity:

How to use wheel centers in manufacturing

Step 1: Test and Validate Your Designs in-Market

  • Experimentation: Use starter centers to experiment with different designs, finishes, and sizes. This allows you to test various products in the market without committing to large volumes.
  • Rapid Prototyping: Quickly turn designs into prototypes for customer feedback and early market testing. This iterative process helps refine product offerings based on actual market data.
  • Validation: Scale production volumes based on the success of these tests, which helps minimize the risks associated with new product introductions.

Step 2: Streamline Your Inventory Management

  • Reduce Overhead: Keep a base stock of various starter centers that can be quickly customized to meet specific demands. This strategy reduces the need for large inventories. Just-In-Time Manufacturing: Develop a just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing process that aligns with customer order patterns. This minimizes warehousing costs and reduces the time products spend in your inventory.
  • Flexibility: Adjust production schedules easily without significant downtime or retooling costs, crucial for responding to fluctuating customer demands.

Step 3: Enhance Your Customer Relationships

  • Customization: Offer customized solutions that cater to individual customer needs. Starter centers allow for the customization of wheels at a fraction of the time and cost.
  • Quick Response: Improve your customer service by reducing the lead time from order to delivery. A faster response time can be a significant differentiator in the competitive wheel manufacturing market.
  • Building Trust: Consistently meeting customer expectations with high-quality, customized products builds trust and loyalty, which are invaluable in sustaining long-term business relationships.

Step 4: Optimize Operational Efficiency

  • Lean Manufacturing: Implement lean manufacturing principles by using starter centers to eliminate waste in the form of time, resources, and space. This efficiency can significantly lower production costs while increasing productivity.
  • Scalability: Adapt more readily to increases or decreases in demand without the risk of excess inventory or supply shortages. This flexibility is particularly beneficial in a volatile market.
  • Technology Integration: Utilize advanced manufacturing technologies to enhance the capabilities of starter centers. This might include automation and data analytics to forecast demand and optimize production planning.

By following these steps, you can effectively integrate starter centers into your manufacturing process, enhancing flexibility, reducing costs, and improving responsiveness to market dynamics.

Conclusion: Capitalize on Flexibility to Drive Growth

In the competitive wheel manufacturing industry, your ability to adapt quickly and efficiently determines your success. 

Leveraging a robust Starter Stocking Program provides you with the flexibility to not only meet but exceed customer expectations through rapid customization and responsive market adaptations.

Embrace the strategic advantage of starter centers to enhance your operational agility, optimize inventory management, and improve overall product offerings. 

This is more than a solution—it’s a transformational strategy that positions your business to thrive in a dynamic market environment.

Ready to Transform Your Wheel Manufacturing Process? Contact Us Today!

If you’re a growing wheel manufacturer looking to streamline operations, reduce lead times, and respond to market demands with unprecedented speed, AST’s Starter Stocking Program is your next step. 

Our dedicated team is ready to support you in integrating these powerful solutions into your production line, helping you boost your operational capabilities and competitive edge.

Contact us today to schedule a free consultation with one of our experts. Discover how you can revolutionize your manufacturing process, stay ahead of the competition, and meet your customers’ needs more effectively. 

Let’s build something innovative together!