Still Going Strong: Les Schwab Is Ranked No. 1 by CR

Bob Ulrich
Posted on September 10, 2019
Les Schwab Tire Centers is the fifth largest independent tire dealership in the U.S. (Photo from lesschwab.com.)
Les Schwab Tire Centers is the fifth largest independent tire dealership in the U.S. (Photo from lesschwab.com.)

Did you know Les Schwab died 12 years ago? At the time, Les Schwab Tire Centers Inc. was based in Prineville, Ore., and ran 333 stores.

When Schwab died, there was talk the dealership might be sold to a major tire manufacturer. Certainly Les had turned down offers to sell over the years.

What would become of the fifth largest independent tire dealer on the 2007 Modern Tire Dealer 100 list?

As it turns out, Les Schwab Tire Centers were left in good hands. The late Phil Wick was the chairman, Dick Borgman took over as CEO, and the dealership remained very independent and well-respected.

Oh, there have been changes:

 * the move of the executive offices to Bend, Ore. (where a lot of the scenes from the classic 1957-63 television show “Have Gun-Will Travel” were filmed) in 2008.

* the death of Wick in 2010 and the retirement of Borgman last year.

* the end of the exclusive, multi-state contract with Toyo Tire USA Corp. earlier this year. For 52 years, the deal effectively locked out other tire dealers, including online retailers, from selling Toyo-branded products in the northwest corner of the U.S. (Les Schwab stores still offer Toyo tires.)

But through it all, the company kept growing. In 2019, it was again the fifth largest independent tire dealership in the U.S. on our list, now with 429 stores. That’s steady, controlled growth of 2.4% a year, not counting its network of member dealers.

As for its business practices, Les Schwab Tire Centers is still considered the gold standard by many consumers. A recent survey of tire buyers by Consumer Reports (CR) ranked Les Schwab No. 1 among 29 regional and national tire retailers, “from big-box stores to web-based businesses,” wrote CR’s Jeff S. Bartlett. More than 30,000 members responded to the survey.

“Three outlets led the way: Les Schwab Tire Centers, Discount Tire, and America’s Tire,” said Bartlett, who acknowledged that Discount Tire and America’s Tire are run by the same company. “As a broad category, our members rated independent retailers they bought tires from as on a par with these three chain retailers.”

“Les Schwab Tire Centers, operating in nine Western states, tops the chart, getting top marks from Consumer Reports members for their sales staff, free perks -- such as tire mounting, tire balancing, or tire rotation -- installation quality, waiting area, and easy checkout. Members rated their installation time as better than average, although survey respondents who shopped there rated their product selection as average.”

Bartlett said around two-thirds of the retail chains earned a favorable overall mark for satisfaction.

Here is an abridged version of CR’s rankings (with the estimated cost per tire – not including the installation cost -- in parentheses).

1. Les Schwab Tire Centers ($179)

2. Discount Tire ($144)

3. Independent retailers ($161)

4. America’s Tire ($167)

5. Discount Tire Centers (168)

6. Costco ($165)

7. Tire Rack ($161)

8. Discount Tire and Automotive ($160)

9. Amazon.com ($110)

10. Kal Tire ($226)

11. Sullivan Tire ($155)

(To see CR's complete tire retailer satisfaction scores, including ratings across nine purchase/installation factors, you will have to subscribe.)

Borgman officially handed his CEO title to Jack Cuniff, formerly the company’s chief financial officer, on July 1, 2018. There is no reason to believe Les Schwab Tire Centers will be anything but successful – and independent – for years to come.

Related Topics: B.O.B., Consumer Reports, Dick Borgman, Jack Cuniff, Jeff Bartlett, Les Schwab, Les Schwab Tire Centers, MTD 100, Phil Wick

Bob Ulrich Editor
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