Tire dealer Robert Christiansen figured that if his technicians had a more efficient tool to use when they removed spare tires from pickups and sport-utility vehicles (SUVs), they could save time otherwise wasted trying to locate the vehicles' tool sets.
But because no such spare-tire removal tool existed in the aftermarket, Mr. Christiansen, president of Christiansen Tire Center Inc. in Horseheads, invented a five-tool set. It not only saves his techs time but also brings him extra profits from selling it to other tire dealers. Unlike original equipment tools that typically are two pieces with a hand crank, Mr. Christiansen said his is a single-piece tool that's driven in with a half-inch hand ratchet.
``The tool goes through the bumper and hits on the OE mechanism and then just lowers the spare tire down,'' he told Tire Business. ``In five to 10 seconds, it's on the ground.''
He said the tool started out as just a rod crudely sharpened on a grinder in one of the bays, with one of his techs using it to experiment on a Chevy pickup truck. Using that crude tool was easier and didn't run the risk of scratching a bumper, Mr. Christiansen said.
``Then, as another five years went by, the pickup truck and SUV explosion hit, so we kept seeing so many pickup trucks and SUVs in our bays and then there were different tools,'' he explained. ``I go, `Man this is crazy because the tools are all over the place. Some are under the seat, under the hood, even some of the guys couldn't even find them.'''
At Christiansen Tire Center's five-bay store, Mr. Christiansen and his employees use time not spent changing tires to form an assembly line and build the spare tire tool sets-about 300 per month-that the dealership sells and ships to dealerships across the U.S. and to Canada. Each set comes with its own rack and costs $99 plus shipping and handling charges.
The dealership has operated its tool business for the past three years and has received much of its commerce either through advertising or direct marketing to large, national tire dealerships, according to Mr. Christiansen. He claimed the tool not only saves the tire store time, it also helps eliminate customer complaints about fingerprints on the paint or dirt left in the vehicle's interior.
With vehicles often costing between $20,000 and $50,000 these days, Mr. Christiansen said, ``People don't want your dirty technician rummaging under their seats getting those things dirty or greasy.''
Mr. Christiansen founded his dealership-which sells all tire brands and wheels but offers no auto service-27 years ago with his brothers, Jeff, who is vice president, and Craig, who is manager. The company also operates a store in Leraysville, Pa., but the spare tire tools are made only in the Horseheads location.
Though he never thought of himself as a toolmaker, Mr. Christiansen said he wishes the customer base for spare tire tools numbered in the millions because ``it's a good little business.'' But he said he recognizes that ``the market share is small. There's only so many tire dealers. It's not like it's going to last forever.''