Fact: A top-of-the-line farm tire service truck with all the latest equipment and trimmings can't change a tire without a well-trained person to operate it.
``The service truck is not any better than the people running it,'' said Roger Anderson, owner of Bair's Firestone Store in Atlantic, Iowa.
With most farm tire service now done out in the fields, dealers sometimes have a hard time hiring-and retaining-qualified people willing to do the required physical labor all day long.
``It's hard to find a good guy to go on-site,'' said Brian Bruesewitz, assistant manager of Bree's Tire Service in Osage, Iowa. ``They are an extension of the shop (when out in the field). It's hard to find someone who can conduct themselves without a supervisor out there.''
The on-site service person also has to be trustworthy, knowledgeable and able to make repair decisions on the spot, according to Mr. Bruesewitz and other dealers interviewed by Tire Business. ``It requires a lot of training. It's not the kind of work a lot of people are cut out for,'' he added.
Roger Howland, owner of Country Tire Inc. in Blair, Neb., agreed. ``We train them ourselves because they don't always come in qualified. But we are willing to do that.''
Training extends to sending two people a year to the Firestone University in Des Moines, Iowa, for a four-day seminar and workshop and also sending employees there for refresher courses on farm tires and how to service them. The training is covered through a co-op program, but the participating dealership has to pay wages while their employees are away, Mr. Howland said.
Bair's often trains employees right out of high school. The single-store dealership also offers financial incentives, such as bonuses per call.
``But after five to seven years, they're thinking, `Enough of this. There must be something else out there,''' noted John Dvorak, Bair's assistant manager.
``Long-term employment for a tire man? There is no such thing,'' Mr. Dvorak said. He speculated that with the improved economy, young people are attracted to education rather than physical work.
``We've been fortunate,'' Mr. Howland said. ``We've had some cases where the employee went through training and was gone the next year, or we've had others that stayed 10 years.''
He noted there can be high employee turnover in the business. ``Not all are cut out to do this or we promote them to other positions in the stores, so there are various factors. The biggest reason is that it's hard work.''
Even though many dealers are upgrading their service trucks with larger cranes to lift and load enormous tractor tires, the cranes can only alleviate some of the labor. Physical effort is still required to take the tire off the wheel and to mount it.
At Don's Tire & Supply Inc. in Abilene, Kan., new employees are put through a strength and conditioning test to categorize them on what work they can do and to determine if there are any pre-existing conditions. That helps with filing workers' compensation forms, owner Don Nebelsick said.
Usually there is one person operating a service truck. He usually relies on the farmer for help in moving the tire.
``If the farmer is not there to assist, then we send out another person, which gets costly for us and takes a person away from other work. It's hard to justify but sometimes two sets of hands are needed,'' Mr. Howland said.
In addition to the physical labor, farm tire service involves long hours at night and on weekends during the planting and harvesting seasons.
One on-site job can last anywhere from a half-hour to repair a flat tire to hours for larger problems. And since ``time is money'' for the farmer, many dealers provide after-hours service for downed equipment on the fields.
The overtime expense pays dividends, according to Mr. Nebelsick, because the on-time service nurtures loyal customers who then bring their cars and small trucks to the dealership.
He said turnover at his two-outlet dealership has been minimal because of the pay and benefits he offers.
Likewise, Randy Eastvold of Hanson Tire Inc. in Leroy, Minn., said he hasn't hired a serviceman for 17 years. ``You got to pay them good money to keep them,'' he said. ``Treat them right and they'll treat you right.''