PRINEVILLE, Ore.-At a time when major tire companies have found it to their advantage to move from the cities in which they were founded, Les Schwab Tire Centers Inc. has taken the opposite tack. The tire distributorship can trace its roots back more than 40 years to the small town of Prineville. And, despite the fact that there are only 5,000 people in the isolated town in eastern Oregon, founder and Chairman Les Schwab said he is ``happy'' with the company's location.
So much so, in fact, that the company is preparing to construct a 400,000-sq.-ft. warehouse that will anchor a new Prineville industrial park.
The new distribution center, which the company hopes to have completed by the spring of next year, will contain about 400,000 square feet of warehouse along with an area for truck loading and unloading and be used to warehouse large, special orders that would then be slowly distributed to the company's existing warehouse as needed.
Currently, the company stores about 2 million tires in 800,000 square feet of warehouse space. That space, along with the company's trucking division, offices and retreading shop, is located on a 65-acre site in Prineville.
The $8 million distribution center will be located in an industrial park near the town's airport about three miles away from the Les Schwab Tire headquarters.
More than 40 years ago, Mr. Schwab opened an O.K. Rubber Welders shop in Prineville in a 24x60-foot shed that lacked running water and had only a pot belly stove for heat. Eventually, that business would become one of the largest independent tire dealerships in North America, serving Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, northern California and parts of Canada.
How much of a part of Prineville is Les Schwab Tire today? Consider this: The tire distributor owns about 230 square feet of space for every resident in the small town.
In a town of just over 5,000 people, Les Schwab Tire's headquarters complex, warehouses, retreading operation and related buildings occupy 1.2 million square feet of space.
The company employs 600 people in Prineville and has been growing its work force at the rate of about 15 percent each year, Mr. Schwab said. The distribution center is expected to create 50 new jobs.
Still, there are reasons the company could use to legitimize a move from Prineville, Mr. Schwab suggested.
For one, about 85 percent of Oregon's population, which makes up a significant portion of Les Schwab Tire's market area, lies on the other side of the Cascade Mountains.
Second, Mr. Schwab estimates the cost of running the firm from Prineville could be about 30 cents per tire more than if it were in a major metropolitan area.
So why stay?
One reason is Mr. Schwab's belief in his work force.
``It's not all that bad here,'' he said. ``I think you get a little better employee in a small town like this.''
But he is also quick to point out that ``we've become to big to move,'' noting that he believes it would be too expensive to relocate the massive warehousing, retreading and office complex the company now owns in Prineville.
``We started here. . .and just grew to the point where we couldn't afford to move,'' Mr. Schwab said.
Les Schwab Tire currently operates through more than 250 company-owned and associated dealers and four retread shops in the Pacific North West.
TIRE BUSINESS ranked the company as the No. 1 passenger/light truck and No. 6 truck tire retreader in North America. The firm also placed sixth in this year's commercial tire dealership survey with 1994 commercial sales of $91.7 million.