AKRON (June 4, 2007) — The tire industry lost an icon May 18 with the death at age 89 of Les Schwab, founder of Les Schwab Tire Centers Inc., based in Prineville, Ore.
Mr. Schwab was considered a legend and visionary in the tire industry and was well known by consumers in the states of Oregon, Washington, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada and Utah where his company has outlets.
For years, he appeared in the dealership's television and radio commercials sporting his trademark white cowboy hat.
Starting with virtually nothing, in a building that was little more than a shack, Mr. Schwab built Les Schwab Tire into a colossal independent tire dealership with more than 410 company-owned and associate tire stores and a huge retreading operation generating more than $1.6 billion in annual sales.
While that was reason enough for his entry into the Tire Industry Hall of Fame, how Mr. Schwab managed and operated his business is what made him an industry giant.
He had an unwavering commitment to customer service highlighted by the Les Schwab Tire trademark of employees literally running to greet customers as they pulled into his dealership's parking lots.
While he apparently couldn't recall how the “running thing” got started, he didn't discourage it, according to Scott Cooper, a Crook County, Ore., judge who heard Mr. Schwab discuss this service in a rare speech given to the Prineville Chamber of Commerce. He thought it was a good idea and it stuck.
Tire dealers across the U.S. often cite this as an example of exemplary customer service and one of the reasons for the dealership's outstanding success.
Known for his integrity, Mr. Schwab described his business philosophy as following the “Golden Rule” by always “treating people right.”
This includes the company's employees, who benefit from Les Schwab Tire's profit sharing plan, retirement accounts, funding for education, health and dental care and payment of an annual dividend. Fifty percent of the company's profits are distributed to employees through these programs, the dealership said.
While Mr. Schwab was uncomfortable talking in public, he was just the opposite with fellow tire dealers, often opening the company's doors to those wanting to learn the Les Schwab way of doing business.
With the trade press, the company was open, too, providing financial information for surveys about North America's largest independent tire dealerships and retreaders.
While many dealerships are reluctant to part with such information, Les Schwab Tire would provide its tire and retread sales to the penny.
Les Schwab represented all of the good things found in independent tire dealers. He was a man of vision, integrity, hard work and honesty. He did things his way and was successful at it. He left a fine legacy.