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Rubber´s in their blood: The Tire Warehouse owners celebrate 25 years of fun

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It was 25 years ago. Wayne Harris was a corporal with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Nettie Harris was in nursing. They were newlyweds. And Wayne decided to quit the police force and start selling tires.

"I thought he´d lost his mind! I thought we´d never make it!" says Nettie.

However, Wayne knew exactly what he was doing. He had a brother who was a fireman and also ran a tire shop. "It looked like so much fun, that I thought if I ever gave up police work I´d like to do it, too," says Wayne. "I´d always been mechanically inclined."

So Nettie supported his decision to quit the RCMP after 12 years. It would give them a chance to stop worrying about transfers, to put down roots.

The couple started The Tire Warehouse in a one-bay location in a condominium warehouse in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. They worked long hours selling BFGoodrich and Uniroyal tires, sometimes from 7 a.m. to almost 11 p.m.

Why did they persist? "Well, once you get that rubber in your blood," says Nettie, "you stick with it."

Customers flocked to them from the beginning. They told them if they ever started fixing brakes, they´d give them their brake business, so Wayne and Nettie added on another bay. Then the customers asked them to do alignments, then tune-ups, then shocks and struts. The Harrises opened a second location.

And the business continued to grow. It now has four locations, one distribution center and 58 service bays. The business is split evenly between tire sales and automotive service.

The couple stuck with BFGoodrich and Uniroyal tires, and has since added the Michelin, Bridgestone and Falken brands. They specialize in high performance, passenger and light truck tires.

They also sell a lot of performance products, including custom wheels. Edmonton has a population of about one million people in an area rich in oil and gas; its residents have a lot of discretionary income for buying and customizing high-end cars, Wayne says.

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And because high performance products are such a large part of their business, the dealership sponsors the PowerRama car show in Edmonton, which draws "tens of thousands" of car enthusiasts, says Wayne.

Nettie´s son, Doug Buhler, is in charge of the performance end of the business. He also is president and general manager of the company. Doug started out as a tire technician at 15 years old, and moved up through the ranks working in the office, as a service manager and then as a store manager.

"He´s very good at what he does," Wayne and Nettie say in unison. And he is very creative, adds his mom. He designed jackets that were given to the store managers in commemoration of the store´s 25th anniversary.

In addition to the jackets, the store managers were treated to a golf tournament at the Jasper Park Lodge in the resort town of Jasper, Alberta, 200 miles west of Edmonton. "They´re the ones who make us successful. They have to pull the long hours. We have a wonderful staff," says Nettie.

Last year was the company´s best ever, and the Harrises say this year´s numbers are surpassing those of 2003.

A quarter century -- and beyond

What is the big difference between doing business now and doing business 25 years ago? Wayne says his customers pay much more attention to the safety factors of tires and brakes today. Also, there is much higher demand for performance products and custom wheels.

And what´s up for the future? "We plan to retire when we´re 80," they agreed. Until then, they´re still having fun.

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