Discount Tire: A Tire Store with a Business 101 Philosophy

Not having bought car tires in years, I didn't doubt where I would make a purchase when just recently, I hit a metal item that ravaged my back tire. With just over 4,000 miles on the car/tire, I wasn't happy about having to replace it. Apparently, unless one takes out a warranty on tires when purchasing a vehicle, they no longer pro-rate the cost.

As a member of a local Corvette curb, I had listened intently to long-time Vette owners about where they received care for their babies, including tires. The go-to tire store was, without a doubt, Discount Tire. So, now in need of a replacement tire-in a new city where I recently moved-I headed to Discount Tire.

Returning home after a great experience which included prompt service-with a smile-and accommodation to my schedule and needs, I was reading the local paper. I learned that Discount Tire's founder Bruce Halle had died that very day. A coincidence, of course, but it spurred me on to read more about him and how he started his successful tire company.

Upon his death this January, Mr. Halle was the Chairman of Discount Tire, and for several years, had been ranked by Forbes magazine as the richest person in Arizona, with a net worth of more than $5 billion.

Bruce Halle, born in Springfield, Mass. on May 27, 1930, attended Eastern Michigan University, graduating with a degree in business administration. In 1960, four years after graduating he opened his first tire store in Ann Arbor, MI, and by 1970, had seven stores in the state.

Discount Tire began with an inventory of just six tires-two new ones and four retreads, according to his 2012 biography Six Tires, No Plan. In Halle's own words, his story is a success story. He started Discount Tire because he needed an income. He had failed at two other business ventures, and was subsisting on wages from a Ford plant, car dealership commissions and benefits from the GI Bill (he served in the Korean War). He also owed $12,000 to Goodyear.

At the time, Halle was 30 years old when he started the company, married with two children and just trying to make a living: "Trying to buy bread and milk and pay the rent. That's all," he said.

His first shop began life in a rented old plumbing supply building. Halle went to work building countertops, repainting signs and became the store's only employee. He served as tire technician, cleaning crew, salesman and accountant. He even cleaned the bathrooms! As Halle tells the story, it was three days before he had his first customer, and a week before he made a sale.

When interviewed years ago by the industry rag Tire Business, Halle said he chose the name Discount Tire for his company simply because 'discount' implied a deal. "Everybody wants a deal," he said.

In 1970, Halle expanded his reach to include the state of Arizona, and in 1987, relocated the Discount Tire headquarters to Scottsdale. He realized later that moving the company to Arizona was a lucky decision."It's not because we were brilliant or smart," Halle notes in Six Tires, regarding the move to Arizona. "We were just lucky. And it's sometimes better to be lucky than smart, because you're never that smart."

Over the years, Discount Tire developed a winning buisiness model by selling off-brand tires to America's growing middle class, offering quality customer service and giving away freebies like no-charge snow-tire changes. After opening stores across Michigan, the stores became known for their quirky ads. In one of them, Halle and his then partner Ted Von Voiglander, dressed as Batman and Robin. In others, they pretended to be astronauts or characters from the old TV show Bonanza.

In 1975, Halle decided to keep the company's quirky ad tradition and hired a marketer to produce a TV commercial highlighting Discount Tire's return policy. In the ad, they featured an older woman rolling up a used tire to a store and tossing it through the window! Thirty years later, this ad officially became the longest-running TV ad in history, according to Guinness World Records.

Allow a little silly, admitted Halle, the ad effectively conveyed the company's philosophy: Anyone can sell tires, but if people receive poor service, they won't come back. With that simple business model, Discount Tire has become the largest independent tire dealer in North America.

Between 1979 and 1984, Discount Tire tripled its footprint to 110 stores, expanding throughout the South and mountain states and into California. In 1985 the company opened 30 more stores in the U.S. During this period, many other tire shops jumped into the fray, selling and in some cases, going public. Halle never considered going public, he said. And, in fact, wouldn't even talk to the "capital" people who approached him.

By 1990, the company had more than 200 stores, and in 2002, opened its 500th store. Currently, Discount Tire boasts 975 stores in 34 states, employing close to 200,000 people.
What readers may not know about Bruce Halle is that he was also a well-known art collector. Many in Phoenix knew Halle as one of the Valley's most prominent arts patrons. He and his wife Diane, amassed one of the largest collections of Latin American art, which has been shown at several esteemed museums throughout the U.S.

As a strong advocate for social justice. higher education, health and medical initiatives, Halle's collection of art appears to reflect this stance. Although a conservative man politically, Halle stood up for the underdog, and as a business owner, was very protective of his employees.

In today's world, Discount Tire's way of doing business may seem old fashioned, but it has served his employees well. Notes Gretchen Buhlig, CEO of ASU Foundation, "Bruce had an enormously inspriing, up-from-the-bootstraps story. One thing that Bruce practiced," she continued, "was hiring from within. He gave his employees a chance to work their way up."
Halle is survived by his wife, Diane, four children, seven grandchildren, and three siblings. His legacy also includes a philanthropic foundation to aid numerous Arizona organizations. He also created a scholarship program that has helped more than 2,700 employees’ children attend college since 2004.

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