Dale (left) and Dan Nothdurft with Tireman dressed in military fatigues in honor of Tire3's participation in Support Siouxland Soldiers.
it all ended tomorrow, Dan and Dale Nothdurft would be just fine. More
than OK. But if Tires, Tires, Tires ended tomorrow, the entire
Siouxland region would be all the poorer. Not because there aren’t
other places to get tires and vehicle service, but because of what
Tires3 (as they call themselves) means to the fabric of the communities
And that relationship between tire dealer and community as well as
many other things was a major reason why Tires, Tires, Tires, based
in Sioux Falls, S.D., is the 2010 winner of the Tire Review Top Shop
Award presented by Ammco/Coats.
The Tires3 owners live by a simple creed Treat people the way you
want to be treated a throwback motto that sets the pace for the
entire three-store, 53-employee operation. The brothers’ old-fashioned
values of honesty, hard work, family and community have been the
backbone of Tires3 for all of its 24 years.
While the Tire Review Top Shop Award recognizes the business and not
the owner, to understand what makes Tires3 such a success and the Top
Shop winner you need to understand the Nothdurfts.
The grandsons of German immigrants. Born and raised on the family farm
in South Dakota. Brought up to believe in the value of integrity and
back-breaking hard work. Part of a culture that thinks nothing of
pitching in to help neighboring farmers bring in their crops. That puts
“self” behind “others.” Folks who shun even mentioning all of the local
awards Tires3 has earned (it took them days to realize the importance
of the Top Shop Award, according to operations manager Gary Michaels).
Two men who are patient enough to “just let things unfold,” but know
the best way is a straight line. A pair smart enough, like a farmer
that grows multiple crops, to understand the value of business
Two accidental tire dealers who, as founder Dan says, “didn’t know
anything about tires or cars or how to run a business. We just knew how
to be honest.”
But make no mistake the Nothdurfts are no country bumpkins. Dan and
Dale are both shrewd businesspeople, and while they started in the
business with no background to call on, they have learned as quickly
and efficiently as their stores operate.
The Early Days
Dan founded Tires3 only after his farm like so many others in the
early 1980s failed. After that, he went back to college and worked
part-time at his uncle’s small tire business. One day, his uncle
suggested he open his own tire shop, an idea that didn’t seem that
far-fetched to the green ex-farmer.
Eventually, with $1,500 of borrowed money in his pocket, Dan found a
two-bay gas station in Sioux City, Iowa, about an hour from home. “My
budget was $600 a month for rent,” Dan explains. “I knew that was all I
could afford. I wasn’t sure how I was going to negotiate that. When I
got to the meeting, the owner said, ‘I can’t take less than $500 a
month, and I’ll throw in an air compressor.’ That’s when I knew that I
had found a calling.”
A bank loan allowed him to immediately repay the other loans, and the
bad roads of Sioux City gave his fledgling business all it could
handle. “We made money from day one just fixing tires,” he says. And he
sold plenty of new and used tires, as well, as the late-October grand
opening immediately gave way to snow and snow tire customers. Having
just two bays, Tires3 became quite adept at getting customers in and
out quickly, but not sloppily.
Younger brother Dale worked at Tires3 during summer breaks from college
and joined the business full-time after graduating in 1991. Today he is
a full partner and handles the business side, while Dan focuses on
marketing and customer service.
Almost from the day Dale joined Tires3, the pair started planning for
the future. They wanted to grow the business, but be smart about the
process. The tiny two-bay shop got its first of four expansions in
1998, and now has 17 bays. Almost like a ghost, part of the foundation
from the original store can be seen poking up in the parking lot of its
Later, an all-new, nine-bay store was opened across town. To get the
land and zoning for that store, the brothers agreed to build and run a
small strip mall on the property. Now anchored by a Radio Shack, the
strip mall was the Nothdurfts’ first diversification move.
A more recent diversification move happened because the brothers became
frustrated with area sign companies. Repairs took too long, and new
signs were slow to materialize. So they bought a sign company, and now
have regular contracts with numerous area businesses.
In 2007, Tires3 expanded north to Sioux Falls, remodeling a
35,000-square-foot former car dealership into a 25-bay palace of a tire
dealership. Built in 1946, and constructed with used steel beams
stripped from a closed bridge (steel was still scarce in the early
post-World War II period), the former Dodge store had everything the
imaginative Nothdurfts were looking for and at a tremendous price.
Serving as their own general contractor, the Nothdurfts stripped the
building almost to the bone, tearing out walls and putting new ones up
where they wanted. Staircases and restrooms were moved. Some 600
gallons of white paint were needed to cover the old gray ceilings and
superstructure. New lighting was added. And what is arguably the best,
most spacious customer waiting area in North America was designed and
The waiting area covers around 1,200 square feet of floor space, and
includes a lounge area with a working fireplace, big screen TV, leather
couches and tables; a more traditional chair-and-table area; a customer
work space with a computer and WiFi; and an enclosed children’s play
area. Free cookies (freshly baked in-store all day), soft drinks, tea
and coffee, newspapers and magazines top off the fully carpeted area.
The Sioux Falls store “was built the way we thought a tire store should
be,” the Nothdurfts say, and is now the model for all future Tires3
locations. And, in time, there will be more, says Dan.
Every good business needs a great logo, a visual “mascot” that connects
with customers and, like all great logos, becomes instantly
“Tireman” is Tires3’s logo. And he is 15 feet tall. There are three
“Tiremans,” actually, one standing guard at each store. Dan’s
brainchild, Tireman is a welded steel skeleton covered in actual tires,
with a tire/wheel assembly serving as the head and, depending on the
store, hands made of tires or exhaust parts.
Today, images of Tireman grace business cards, stationery, staff
uniforms, advertisements, TV spots, flyers just about everything. And
Tireman figures prominently in Tires3’s online and social media
efforts. An all-new website (tires3.com
) was launched earlier this ear,
with some 200 pages on new customer education content, and Tires3 added
a Facebook page
, a Twitter account
, and photos and videos on Flickr
“Through all of these sites, we can feature service specials, customer
testimonials and informative updates from our mascot, Tireman,”
As a result, everyone in Siouxland knows Tireman, and Tires3 knows a lot of people in Siouxland.
But Tireman is just one part of the “outside-the-box” marketing schemes
the Nothdurfts dreamed up. The brothers bounce ideas off each other all
day, they say. The good ones stick for further discussion; the bad ones
are soon forgotten.
The Tires3 message isn’t so much about selling tires as it is about
promoting safety, “and we communicate that through our commercials and
public service announcements,” says Michaels. At least twice each year,
Tires3 brings together a group from inside and outside the company for
brainstorming sessions. “This allows us to assess customer needs, hear
different viewpoints, test marketing messages and discuss new services
that would benefit our customers.”
One successful marketing move is something few if any have tried:
free oil changes. No, not just for the first 10 people or for those who
showed up between 1 and 2 p.m. This was for everyone, all day, no
exceptions. Police had to come and handle traffic; cars and trucks
circled the block and then some for nearly 24 hours. In all, Tires3
gave away 1,800 oil changes to celebrate the grand opening of its huge
Sioux Falls store but, as Dan says, “we got 18,000 referrals.”
Want more outside-the-box thinking? How about free brake pads? Not
cheapy, third-world pads, these were premium brake friction. All the
customer had to do was pay for the install. Another few hundred
customers on the rack, and another few thousand referrals. Why
higher-priced, premium pads? “We didn’t want the comebacks, unless the
customer was coming back for new tires or other service,” says Dale.
Or how about paying the freight for a series of 44 tire and car care
PSAs on a local TV station? Or creating a printed “leave behind” piece
about not texting while driving, complete with coupons, placed in every
customers’ vehicle? Or giving away thousands of dollars in college
scholarships to help promote safe driving to teens?
That last one straddles the line between marketing and charity, but
like many smart and successful dealers, the Nothdurfts know that some
charitable acts are best done quietly and privately, while others can
help keep a business in a positive light.
The “Driving Toward a Better Future!” scholarship program, which covers
high schools in Sioux Falls and Sioux City, presents two $1,000
scholarships to students exhibiting great grades, community involvement
and a serious commitment to safe driving. Ten other students receive
$200 Tires3 gift certificates to help get their cars ready for college.
Then there is Angel Cars. “We wanted to do something to help battered
women,” Dan explains, “to help them get away from bad situations.”
After becoming involved with the local Wheels to Work program, that
idea snowballed, and pairing up with a top-rated local radio station,
Angel Cars was born. The basic idea was to take in donated vehicles,
fix them up to make them safe and reliable, and give them away to
single mothers who desperately needed wheels to get a job or go back to
Before Tires3 got involved, Wheels to Work would provide three or four
used cars to area single moms who needed them. “The first year we got
involved, in 2009, we thought we might get a dozen or so cars in,” says
Dan. In all, 75 cars and minivans were donated by Siouxland residents.
Some were too far gone to be fixed and had to be scrapped, but Tires3
put nearly $40,000 into the rest and turned out more than four dozen
safe, road-worthy rides.
With the harsh economic climate, this year’s program was expanded to help needy families, and another 40 cars and minivans made their way to grateful new owners.
Tires3 also plays a huge role in Support Siouxland Soldiers, a
non-profit program that sends care packages to the deployed military
personnel from the region. Last year, Tires3 served as a donation
drop-off point and bivouacked complete with a military tent in the
parking lot of its newer Sioux City store. The Tireman there was
dressed in military fatigues, thanks to Dan and Dale’s mom, Dorthy, who
created the 15-foot tall mascot’s costume (she also created Santa suits
for all three Tireman figures). Dad, Melvin, 79, who still runs the
family farm, also pitches in to help.
This year, Tires3 has been enlisting the help of other local merchants
to serve as collection points for donations, and Dan hopes they can put
together even more care packages for “our hometown heroes.”
Besides these very public efforts, Tires3 and the Nothdurfts make
numerous donations of time and money to dozens of local groups,
schools, youth sports, church groups a seemingly endless list.
For its work with the Angel Cars program, Tires3 was proud to be
nominated by Life 96.5 for a Spirit of Volunteerism Award. It also
received the 2010 HELP! Line Center Corporate Humanitarian Spirit of
Volunteerism Award, and the Hero award for its work with the Siouxland
Tires, Tires and Service
“Maybe we’re blessed to not know the right way to do this,” says Dan of
how Tires3 does business. And it does a lot of business.
With a mix of 45.7% tires and 54.3% service (less than 1% of sales come
from wholesale), Tires3 has seen gross sales rise even during the
recession. Tires3 was up 9.6% year-over-year in 2009, and thus far in
2010 has seen a 14.2% jump in gross sales.
Service has played a key role in recent years, as it has in many parts
of the country, growing nearly 4% of the mix since 2008. “People are
trying to keep their vehicles longer,” says Dan, so Tires3 is trying to
leverage that to a greater degree. But more on that later.
Even though Tires3 gets twice-daily tire deliveries, they keep some
8,000 tires on hand, regularly selling Michelin, BFGoodrich, Uniroyal,
Bridgestone, Firestone, Continental, General, Goodyear, Yokohama,
Nexen, Mastercraft, Nitto, Primewell and Carlisle.
While used tires were part of the offering when Tires3 started, the
Nothdurfts long since ended that practice. They see no value in it, and
say they will work hard to help any budget-crunched customer get good
new tires before they will sell used ones.
Being in a mixed urban/rural region makes for some tough tire
applications. For example, many farm areas have nothing but miles of
gravel roads, which means Tires3 has to carry pickup tires that are
cut/chip resistant. The change into fall and winter winters can be
quite harsh across Siouxland only adds to the stocking headaches. But
tires they got, and tires they get from local American Tire
Distributors and US Autoforce warehouses.
Vehicle service is easily handled by a large staff of well-trained
service techs. All are paid a straight salary no commissions and
are paid quite well, which the Nothdurfts feel helps keep the customer
first. “We try to eliminate as many problems as possible, that way we
don’t have problems with customers,” Dan says. They disdain the entire
commission idea, and feel it leads to damaging competition,
unproductive employees and jealousies. “No commissions, no problems,”
No problems and good pay mean a motivated and loyal staff. One
long-time service tech thinks nothing of coming in well after hours
(like at 1 a.m.) to finish customer vehicles “because they need them to
get to work the next day.”
The service side has become a Tires3 focus, if only because car dealers
in the Siouxland region have been quite aggressive in promoting tire
sales. Taking an, “If they want to go after us...” mentality, Tires3
hatched a plan.
First, Tires3 invested in the latest GM and Ford training, equipment
and tools, and made sure all of the service techs received additional
training. “Then we did some research and found that on average, for
routine regular service, customers would pay $300 more at a car dealer
than with us,” says Dale. “That’s the basis of our latest ‘Why Go to
the Dealer?’ TV and online ad campaigns.”
“This is another way we can help save our customers money,” Dan says.
It’s The People
Both men, as you might expect, are humble, as are their employees. The
Nothdurfts don’t like to spend time talking about themselves or the
things they do, but they will go on when it comes to their employees
and what they mean to the success of the company.
Besides seeking out top-level service techs and maintaining a
cooperative shop atmosphere in which they all can thrive, Tires3 front
counters are manned by true experts, veterans of an auto business. An
ex-sales guy from a Sears Auto Center, the founder of an exhaust
business, and the former owner of a parts store. People, as Dan says,
who understand what it means to own a business, who share the same
passion for customer service, and who understand why it’s important to
get it right the first time. every time.
“People want to buy from honest people,” says Dan. “The whole thing is
represented by our front line people and in the service area.”
And they love the look and feel of the Tires3 locations. Little wonder
as each store has its own full-time cleaning person, who also doubles
as the courtesy vehicle driver. When not dropping off customers, the
employee constantly tends to restrooms, floors, displays and service
Tires3’s ASE-certified technicians participate in ongoing education, including classroom, online and hands-on
training through ACDelco, Snap-on, Hunter, Advance Auto Parts, NAPA,
O’Reilly’s and TIA. In fact, its lead service technician already has
completed more than 100 online classes to date this year.
The tire technicians also complete tire repair certification through
Myers Tires Supply, and sales professionals participate in programs
such as the Michelin Training Network, Continental Engage 360,
Bridgestone ProCert and Yokohama Exceed Training. The Nothdurfts and
their managers take part in training through Michelin and Bridgestone,
as well as other topic-specific training on safety, OSHA compliance,
human resources and more. “We also follow industry trends and
developments to ensure we have the latest equipment and computer
updates that allow us to provide state-of-the-art service,” says
Once a year, the Nothdurfts take a small group of employees on a resort
vacation to Mexico as a way to thank them for their contribution. The
group rotates from year to year so that every one of the employees gets
a chance to go every few years.
Having a strong group of loyal employees has certainly helped Tires3 in
a highly competitive market. Besides car dealers, the Siouxland region
gives residents dozens of choices for tires and car care, including the
usual mass merchants and company-owned stores, major independents like
Pomp’s Tire and Big O, chain shops like Meineke and Midas, and a
wagonload of smaller independents.
Despite that jungle of competition, Tires3 has often been voted by the
locals as the best place to get tires and service. In fact, local
residents named Tires3 the best place for tires and the fifth-best for
service in the Sioux Falls Local Best poll of some 3,000 locals.
Always the Customer
Despite the accolades, no one at Tires3 takes the competition for
granted. All of that competition, in fact, motivates the Nothdurfts and
their staff, and staying ahead of what the customer wants is a constant
point of conversation.
“We have the flexibility to change our business to meet customers’
needs,” Dan explains. “We can provide any product without being tied to
one particular brand. Whatever customers want, we will find it for
The sharp appearance of each store is just the start of the customer
service experience. “Our customers can take their vehicles to many
different places for repair or for tires,” says Michaels. “That is why
we pledge to fix our
customers’ cars right the first time. We don’t cut
corners and put their safety at risk, and we charge only a fair price
for our work.”
Every vehicle that comes to Tires3 for service goes through a complete
27-point vehicle inspection. Customer-friendly checklists are used to
help identify the nature of a vehicle’s problems, and explain them to
“They aren’t thinking about the exact ‘shop terminology’ when trying to
describe the problem and we don’t expect them to,” says Michaels.
“Instead, we use customer-friendly tools like our ‘Suspension,
Handling, Body Noises, Rattles & Squeaks Worksheet,’ so they will
feel comfortable describing their situation using words like ‘squeaks,’
‘rattles,’ ‘whines,’ ‘shakes’ and ‘shudders.’”
Tires3 plans to make that form available online for customers to download and fill out before they come in.
With no commissions at Tires3, customers won’t get pushed for added services they really don’t need.
“A lot of things have changed since we first opened, but one thing has
not changed: we know that if it weren’t for our customers and a healthy
and vibrant community, we would not be in business. And this guides
every decision we make,” says Michaels.
Tires3 has received a trailer-full of customer testimonials, but
perhaps the best testament to the business comes from a 20-year
employee the guy who comes in at 1 a.m. to help customers Duane
Lukes. “They go above and beyond what they need to do as an employer.
Whether it’s vacation time or support for employees’ personal issues,
they really go above what they need to in order to help their
employees. I like it because we work as a team.
Everyone just does whatever it takes to get the job done. It’s a team,
and it’s a family. You can talk about whatever you have going on, and
you know you can get support and good advice. We have a lot of young
guys working here many are 20 years younger than I am and I like it
when I can give them advice to help them out. I also admire what the
company does for the community. They give their time and resources to
help people in need. I love hearing people talk about Tires, Tires,
Tires in the community. It makes me want to get to work and do my job.”
Yes, if it all ended tomorrow, the Nothdurfts would be fine. But they
love the tire business, they cherish their employees and customers.
“This is the door that opened for us and you go through the doors that
open,” says Dan. “It is rewarding to know that the work we do helps
others succeed, allows people to get to work, and provides dependable
transportation for families in our communities.
“All we know is family and the value of hard work.”
And for that focus, and so much more, Tires3 earned the title of 2010 Tire Review Top Shop Winner.