(Rendering | Courtesy of Cushing Terrell Architecture, Engineering & Design)
Additional Location Set to Open Next Year as Population Booms
In a sign of population growth driving market dynamics, Les Schwab Tire Centers has announced it will open a second Redmond location on the south part of town next year.
Chief Marketing Officer Dale Thompson said the independent retail chain has homed in on a 1.72-acre site fronting Highway 97 and Pumice, next to Central Oregon Ranch Supply, to keep pace with a robust increase in residents over the last decade, which has seen the city’s population expand by 27 percent.
Most recent studies report Redmond now has a population of close to 40,000 and is currently growing at a rate of 5.31 percent annually.
Thompson said, “The main thing is as the city has grown it makes sense to keep up with that growth to maintain our levels of customer service.
“Our stores get very busy, and we always want to take opportunities to increase customer service. We are excited to add capacity to reach that goal.”
The store, on the east side of Hwy. 97, will be on the larger than average size at 12,000 square feet with nine bays, to go along with the original location on NW Sixth Street, and will be the company’s eighth in Central Oregon, including three in Bend.
Two previously occupied buildings on site have been demolished to make way for the project, with construction on the new development estimated to begin soon and an opening anticipated toward the end of the second quarter 2024.
The independent tire business industry leader now has 520 stores across 11 Western Mountain states and beyond, including newer locations in Montana, North and South Dakota, several in Colorado, and one in Minnesota, as the firm footprint expands.
Thompson said the new locations for the company — which along with the core business of tires, does brakes, alignment, shocks, and more — have been well received, adding, “Our roots are in Prineville, and these are the types of communities we identify with.
“Our approach to the market is somewhat unique. We are in a number of markets and always strive to provide superior customer service as well as getting involved with the local community.
“We are excited to add capacity in Redmond. Our origins are in Central Oregon — we love it here and continue to find opportunities for growth.”
The home-grown Central Oregon success story began in 1952, driven by its founder’s vision and bearing his name. Born in 1917 in Bend, Les Schwab came from humble beginnings and attended grade school in a boxcar in a logging camp.
Orphaned at 15, he was a self-made man, known for his belief in old-fashioned hard work, and built his business from one store — when he bought OK Rubber Welders in Prineville — to hundreds of locations across the western states, making Les Schwab Tire Centers one of the largest independent tire businesses in the US.
Today the private company employs over 7,000 people across a large swathe of the country.
Mr. Schwab became one of the most recognizable figures in the West, appearing with his trademark cowboy hat and folksy demeanor in many of the company’s television commercials. From 1964 until 2011, the firm offered an innovative February Free-Beef promotion, to boost sales during slow late-winter months, and he was particularly known for his intense commitment to customer service.
He also created a profit-sharing program that returns half of each store’s profits to the employees who work there through annual bonuses and a trust that can make retirees wealthy.
The iconic tycoon made sure people knew he did not do it alone. He valued partnerships — he was married to his high school sweetheart, Dorothy Harlan for over 70 years — and provided his employees training and opportunities to grow and succeed, both financially and personally, with a belief in “treating customers like family.”
Although Schwab passed away in 2007, his vision remains at the core of the company’s culture expressed as, “Give people more for their money… reward employees for their expertise and hard work… earn people’s trust and everyone benefits.”
The company is also well known for helping its neighbors and repaying the loyalty of customers by reinvesting in hometowns, feeling strongly about serving communities and recognizing others who demonstrate that same commitment, including supporting activities “that instill in youngsters a sense of responsibility, respect, and hard work.”
Support for local organizations also extends to events that build character, help those in need and promote vibrant, healthy communities.
The company had been privately held by Les Schwab’s grandchildren and their families until agreeing to sell to California investment firm the Meritage Group in 2020.
At the time, Les Schwab CEO Jack Cuniff said, “The decision to sell has always been about securing the long-term success of the company. Meritage Group has a history of preserving culture and values while growing its companies with investment over time.”
Les Schwab Tire Centers moved its corporate headquarters to Bend in 2008, though there is still a significant distribution and production presence in Prineville.
Modern Tire Dealer has called Les Schwab “arguably the most respected independent tire store chain in the United States.” The company closes all of its stores on Sundays, and employees were formerly known for running to customer vehicles when they pull in to park.
“We see Les Schwab Tires as an ideal investment,” said Aubrey Barth, managing director of Meritage. “The company’s exceptional employees and programs, strong financials, and respected, customer-focused brand set it up for success for years to come.”
“It only took reading 50 pages of Les’ book (Les Schwab, Pride in Performance, Keep it Going! Bend, Ore.: 1986) to realize the company was a great cultural fit for Meritage,” added Alex Magaro, co-president and senior managing director of Meritage.
In August 2019, leading national consumer magazine Consumer Reports rated Les Schwab Tire Centers — which calls itself “the nation’s highest-ranked, most customer-focused tire retailer” — the No. 1 tire retailer. Also in 2019, J.D. Power awarded Les Schwab No. 1 in Customer Satisfaction in both the Tire Replacement and Aftermarket General Maintenance surveys.
Les Schwab is recognized for several innovative business practices. It pioneered the concept of offering a supermarket selection of tires in its showrooms — allowing customers the opportunity to inspect and select the exact tires they want.
For over 70 years, the company has stood behind its products and services by providing customers with written warranties on tires, brakes, and other products.
Other innovations include industry-leading employee recruitment and retention programs.
The company established its first profit share program in 1954, and today shares approximately half of its profits with employees through generous health benefits, bonus, and retirement programs.
When Les Schwab was recognized as Modern Tire Dealers magazine’s Tire Dealer of the Year in December 2000, his policy of sharing more than 51 percent of his company’s profits with employees through annual bonuses and a trust that can make retirees wealthy was mentioned and applauded.
All employees, including executives and store managers, start out changing tires.
Les Schwab Tire Centers was represented in the new Redmond location transaction by local broker of record Walt Ramage of Bend-based NAI Cascade, who scouted for two years to find the optimal site for his client. Two tax lots were combined through a lot line adjustment to accommodate the project’s development, on a ground lease basis.
Ramage added, “This is a prime site with good visibility and accessibility. Les Schwab Tire Centers is known as a great business operator and community partner, and this will be a terrific addition for the people of Redmond.”