Placing Yourself in the Shoes of Your Customer

This is about a seller of car tires. (Sorry if you thought I was going to write about where to buy cheap Contis!)

Affordable Tire is a business that sits on a side street on a small-to-mid sized American town. And just creams it. The story of this company is so feature rich with metaphors for the specialty endurance sports retail industry it’s hard to keep from limiting what I’ll write below to a single theme.

“Hey, I want to show you something,” I said to my buddy Paul Thomas who was up visiting. I swung into Affordable Tire for a wheel rotation.

“Hey, we’re on a time schedule here!” Paul complained.

“Not to worry. Just, when we roll in, get out of the truck in a hurry.”


“Just do it.”

An Affordable Tire worker waives you into a slot in between cars. No hoists. Floor jacks are already rolling under your car, front and rear, before you’re out and standing on dry land. Air drills are loosening your lug nuts. Thirty seconds after you’re on terra firma your car is in the air. (They don’t yet know why you’re here, but they know it probably requires the removal of your wheels.)

“Just a rotation,” I say to the manager who, yes, if you look, is wearing Hokas, the TOR ULTRA HI WP, which is my everyday kick around shoe.

We’re back in the car driving off and I say, “How long, Paul?”

“Eight minutes… maybe.”

If you buy tires, make that 20 minutes. Maybe 25. That’s from the moment you drive up to the moment you drive away, and that includes you choosing the tires you want, the staff fetching them, take the old tires off, mount and balance the new tires, put them on, you pay, you go. It’s not a tire center. It’s a damned pit crew.

So, Lesson-1. Time is money. Not their time. Your time. Think about all the times you wait for your vendors to sell you something, or service what you bought. I’ll spend 45 minutes on the phone on hold waiting for my health insurance company. Sometimes 30 minutes for my wireless company. I took a poll last week asking Slowtwitchers: "Not counting ship time for an unstocked part few shops would reasonably stock, how long does your LBS take to finish a typical (less than 2-hour) bike service task from the time you request the service?”

I’m not going to beat up on local bike shops! The average shop earns 7 percent of its revenue on service, so it’s hard to ask them to remake their businesses with a focus of attention on service. Still I wonder what it might be like if all aspects of service were sped up. I have some ideas about that, which perhaps I’ll share in due time. Back to Affordable Tire…

When you buy tires you ask, using my truck’s tires as an example, “How much for Michelin LTX AT2 265 70r17 Load Range E?”


"So, this will cost what? Tires, mounting, balancing, sales tax, hazardous waste disposal?”


When they give you the price, it’s the price. It’s not only not drip pricing, it's anti drip pricing. And they’re always the least expensive or damned near it.

My dealership tries to entice me: “We’ll beat their price. Buy 3 from us, we’ll give you the 4th.” But then they load everything onto the base price and it’s never even close.

Because this shop operates this way, I just never price-shop these guys. We have Sam’s Club and Costco (I’m members of both) in my area, along with Pep Boys, Sears, Big O, Walmart, America’s Tire, you name it. None of these comes close to the tire volume sold by Affordable Tire.

You might wonder what Affordable Tire in Palmdale, California has to do with triathlon, or even more broadly cycling and running. Nothing. Everything. Remember back to some of my jeremiads on race transfers and against drip pricing. I’m not going to let up on this.

I asked the owner, “Why don’t you have Affordable Tire stores all over Southern California?”

“Because we can’t find managers. It takes a very specific skillset to run this business the way we run it.”

Across my transom today came a notice that a major running shoe chain just lost or is replacing its president. The big “roll up” of running shoe stores, Running Speciality Group, proved a failure and its 65 stores were sold to a private equity group for… “Here are the front door keys; it’s yours now.” Yes. After all that, the shops were given handed off for nothing.

What is the take away? Roll-ups and national brands don’t always work. Commodity sellers (whether car tires or bike tires) require a special service, a special skill, a special something. Starbucks worked because it was better than the Yuban and Farmers Bros colored water. (Starbucks works because America's specialty local coffee shops failed the consumer.) Rolling up a bunch of already very good run or bike stores is not a value-add, it’s a value-subtract. Roll-ups, national chains, franchises have never impressed me in specialty run and bike. (We’ll see what mobile bike franchises mean; I don’t know the end of that story.) The only way a roll-up is going to work in specialty run or bike is if specialty stores are failing the consumer. Renaming Boulder Running Company "Jackrabbit Sports"—which is what Running Specialty Group did—added no value.

Affordable Tire works because it's perfect for its area; because its managers really understand the business and the market. It works because these guys place themselves in the shoes of their customers and ask themselves what it is they want in a tire transaction?

In fact, as you see above, they very did literally place themselves in the shoes of their customer.