Self-reliance is all the more a virtue when the economy starts collapsing.
There was a time when you couldn’t drive a mile in any direction in my area without running into one or another tire shop. Most of them were independent. Most of them could get to you within an hour at the longest, and you wouldn’t really pay that much for common services. It was a competitive business.
There aren’t that many small tire shops around any more. The cost of staying in business has really gone up. We have one in our area that survives in part because they only take cash; they haven’t invested in the very expensive infrastructure to support taking bank cards. They usually stay busy, though.
The big tire chain stores thrive on having a level of business that leaves customers dissatisfied. They do a good job of shaving tire prices to the bone, and make it up in selling services, which are more profitable. That “free wheel alignment check” is a good racket. The problem they solve is real enough, but not as bad as they suggest, and they do make a very strong profit on it.
They also make these big promises of free road hazard repairs. However, that’s not profitable. So if you bring your car in for a flat fix, there’s a good chance the management policies will put you at the end of a very long cue, separate from the other customers, that does not receive sufficient resources for anything resembling quick service. That’s not how it was ten years ago, but that’s how it works now. They are doing their best to attract more customers than they can serve at any given time, so they make promises they cannot possibly keep.
I ran into that yesterday. I came into a Hibdon’s tire dealer (owned by Bridgestone) with what I thought was plenty of lag time for an old retired guy needing a slow leak fixed. During my 2.5 hours there, I watched four customers come in after me, get their car serviced, and leave. I was still waiting on a simple flat fix. Oh, and they kept at least one service tech active on the free air service, where they check and inflate all four tires for free. It’s usually pretty quick. I saw no evidence that there was one of their dozen or so service techs dedicated to flat repairs.
I’ve done that work myself. I know how long it takes and all that’s involved. At one point I was able to fix five in just one hour, working by myself with a floor jack, air wrench, and the tire machine. And none of them came back due to the failure of my fix. It’s not hard to learn; I was 16 at the time, working after school.
I also learned about the business, with profit margins and pulling in customers with loss leaders, etc. The business owner does best when there’s more business than he can handle. Part of that is lobbying for regulation that can be met only by bigger operations with a wider margin. They can absorb the costs across a larger corporate budget. Meanwhile, they know this destroys the competition from the little guys, so that it increases the business volume for themselves.
You end up with something reminiscent of the old Soviet days when you may not have to pay too much, but you get only what they want to provide, when they want to provide it. The workers can slow down in the name of “safety,” and they don’t get paid what they are worth, anyway. The people doing the work are kind of stuck, unless they have a way of shifting to different work. Right now, the prospects for that aren’t too good.
I ended up canceling the work order so I could get my car key back. I ran out of dead time for that task. The tire still has a slow leak. Don’t ask me to drive on my spare; those “doughnut” tires are a significant factor in car crashes, especially on bad roads. What city doesn’t have plenty of those? It’s another racket dreamed up by big corporations to screw the customer.
I think it’s time for me to purchase some of the DIY versions of tire repair equipment.