Yesterday I bought four tires for our Prius at the south Salem Les Schwab Tire Center and, per usual, my experience with the company was exemplary.
...When I called Les Schwab to get a quote on some Toyos I told the guy who answered the phone:
"You’ve earned my loyalty after one of your crew ran out to greet me in the parking lot when I came in this spring with a tubeless mower tire that I couldn’t figure out how to fix. He repaired it for free in a flash."
That sort of Les Schwab service is legendary, as described in this glowing online business magazine article: “Four tires, free beef.” They fix flats for free, whether or not they sold you the tires. And when I said “ran out to greet me,” I meant that literally. Les Schwab employees run all over the place. This is one high-energy, high-customer service business.
But I've always thought that Les Schwab only sold a few brands of tires, notably Toyo.
That's why I recently ordered four run-flat Bridgestone replacement tires for my 2011 Mini Cooper from Tire Rack.com after one of the original Continental tires got a nail puncture and, as advertised, ran flat to get me home.
(Continental doesn't recommend repairing its run-flat tires, as the sidewall may be weakened after driving on them with no air. Plus, I had enough miles on the OEM tires to justify replacing all four.)
Tire Rack.com also has great customer service. I ordered the tires on Thursday; they arrived from Nevada on Monday.
Today I phoned the south Salem Les Schwab store to make an appointment to have the Bridgestones installed. In the course of our conversation the guy I talked with said, "Did you know that we can get any brand of tires for you?"
"No," I told him. "That's news to me. Thanks for letting me know. Next time I'll probably order new tires from you, since I really like your customer service."
When I took my Mini Cooper in this afternoon to have the new tires put on, diligently driving under 50 mph as the warning indicator on the dash told me, I double-checked with a different Les Schwab employee. "So you guys could have ordered run-flat Bridgestones for me?"
"Yes," he confirmed. "They just might cost more than you'd pay somewhere else." I told him that this probably wouldn't be a problem, given how much I like Les Schwab.
It's been quite a while since my wife and I have bought tires from Les Schwab. Doesn't matter, though, when it comes time to have winter tires/wheels that I bought from Tire Rack mounted on my Mini Cooper and our Toyota Highlander.
I never have to pay for this. The Les Schwab employee looks at a computer screen, sees that we've bought tires from Les Schwab in the past, and tells me "no charge" -- even though the winter tires were bought somewhere else.
This is a great way to keep customers satisfied. Real smart for Les Schwab to do this. However...
My recommendation to Les Schwab management is that you do a better job of publicizing the fact that people can order any brand of tires from you. I probably would have bought our two sets of Bridgestone Blizzak winter tires from Les Schwab if I'd known this.
Before writing this blog post I Googled "Les Schwab order any brand." Nothing relevant showed up on the first few pages of search results, aside from a mention of that fact in a Yelp review that didn't seem to exist any more.
Now, I don't know how much the four Bridgestone Driveguard tires would have cost me if I'd bought them through Les Schwab. Tire Rack.com charged me $475, including $69 for shipping. I then had to pay Les Schwab $178 for dismounting the old tires, mounting the new ones, and balancing the new ones.
There would have been some charge for doing these things if I'd bought the tires from Les Schwab, but the cost would have been less (my line item bill for balancing says "non LS product"). So I'm not sure how I would have fared, cost-wise, if I'd ordered the Bridgestone tires from Les Schwab rather than Tire Rack.
With tires bought from Les Schwab, though, you get free flat tire repairs, rotations, rebalancing, and air checks for the life of the tires. Pretty good deal. Free popcorn and coffee also, while you're waiting.
So I think Les Schwab would be well-served by publicizing more openly the availability of other brands. This would require some changes in the company's marketing strategy, which was described in a post on the Modern Tire Dealer web site, "Brand Awareness."
Strong relationships with your tire suppliers will help your business run more efficiently and successfully, and less stressfully.
But the brand is only part of what defines you in the public’s eyes.
Look at Les Schwab Tire Centers. The third largest independent tire dealership in the country sells the Toyo, Dean, Federal, Hankook and Multi-Mile consumer tires, but you would never know it by looking at its advertising. Or outdoor signage. Or website.
Oh, the tires all have names. They are almost always the line names, however, not the brand names. Take, for example, the Toyo Open Country A/T. The SUV tire is listed on the company’s website as the Open Country A/T.
(I had never heard of one of the passenger car tires, Thunderer, and had to look it up. It is made by Deestone Ltd. out of Thailand.)
Does it matter? When potential customers see an ad, or drive by an outlet, or search the website, they see Les Schwab tires, not brand name tires. Branding your business doesn’t get any better than that.
But Les Schwab should keep in mind that there are quite a few tire buyers like me, people who care about the quality and characteristics of the tires they're thinking of buying as much as the reputation of the store selling them.
I never thought of Les Schwab when I read many highly positive reviews of the Bridgestone Driveguard run-flat tires on TireRack.com. As noted before, I thought Les Schwab only sold Toyos and some other little-known brands.
Anyway, I'm glad to let the secret out: apparently Les Schwab tire stores can order any brand of tire (at least, the south Salem store is willing to do this; I assume the same is true of other Les Schwab tire centers).