Christine Croucher, aka the “Tire Lady,” got her start in the tire business in an unexpected way.
Three decades ago, Croucher was just a small gas station owner in rural Pennsylvania who knew nothing about tires. She was happy with her business, Rainbow Service Center, and even sublet the bays attached to her shop to a mechanic for extra work.
Every Friday they could count on old man Hank to come by and fill up his truck, which was piled high with old junk tires. And every Friday he would give Croucher the same advice.
“He would always say to me, ‘You know what you need to do? You need to sell used tires,’” explains Croucher. “I was always really polite to him of course, but I thought ‘this guy is crazy, who would buy used tires?’”
Each time, Croucher politely declined Hank’s offer to buy his used tires until one day he made her an offer she just couldn’t refuse.
“He had an old Coats 1010 on the back of his truck and he told me that if I bought the load of used tires, he would give me the tire machine. Well, what girl could resist?”
Croucher bought the tires for $2 a piece, hooked up the machine and got to work. “This machine was so worn out that we would get halfway around the stroke and it would let loose,” she explains.
“I put it up against a block wall and if it was on the bottom, it would throw the tire against the wall. I’d sit back and let ‘em fly! I changed tires like that for a year. I didn’t know any different.”
After a year, Croucher saved up enough money to buy a new Coats 2020 and was surprised at how different it was from her first machine.
“I stood back and pressed the pedal and I was waiting for it to fly off of there, but it didn’t do that. I thought it was broken. I was going to take it back, but I would have made a fool of myself!”
Despite the rough start, Croucher found a niche in the tire market and today operates two stores in West Virginia, one in rural Masontown and the other in Morgantown, home of West Virginia University.
Croucher still sells used tires, however the majority of her business comes from new passenger and light truck tire sales.
“We sell over $1 million in tires a year,” she says. “At each location last year we sold approximately 8,500 units.”
Tire brands include Michelin, BFGoodrich, Mastercraft and Uniroyal.
With 16 full-time employees, her two stores also do underhood work, as well as brakes, alignments, oil changes, shocks and struts, and transmission work.
Croucher is a big supporter of education and training and ensures all of her technicians possess the right skills for the jobs they perform.
“It used to be where the janitor could change a tire,” says Croucher. “But with tire pressure monitoring systems, it’s a high-tech job nowadays. I have a guy who is a TIA instructor so we try to get all of our guys TIA-certified as tire changers.”
Additionally, Croucher utilizes a regional community college for advanced training.
“We’re really fortunate that we have the Community College of Allegheny County,” she says. “We’re actually sending a guy up there next month to do advanced alignment training on Hunter equipment.”
She also takes advantage of any online manufacturer training materials that are available.
Outside the Box
When it comes to marketing, Croucher’s business approach matches her personality, which is all about having fun while doing good, quality work.
“One of my favorite things to do is advertising, I get a really big kick out of it,” says Croucher. “In Masontown, we have a country music theme jingle and in Morgantown, we use a rap song.”
Croucher even starred in a music video-themed commercial and has a trademarked cartoon character of herself in her advertising materials.
“When I moved up here to Preston County, there was some farmer down the road who named me ‘Tire Lady’ and people just started calling me Tire Lady,” she says. “Now we use it in all of our advertisements and we found that people remembered it.”
When she’s not coming up with a catchy radio jingle or viral video, Croucher uses the company’s Facebook page to connect with customers.
“When someone comes in and buys a set of tires we take pictures of their car and publish it on Facebook,” she says. “People love to see their cars on Facebook, so we use that extensively.”
The shop’s website also features information on the latest specials and coupons.
Croucher adds that what really attracts customers is the quality of work and the experience they leave with after visiting the shop.
“You’ve got to treat the customer like they’re your mother,” says Croucher. “What would you do to your mother’s car?”
She adds that the personalization customers receive easily beats out the competition.
“We do have competition from the big box stores in Morgantown,” Croucher explains. “But we have them beat just because my personnel are trained, they know what they’re doing and they care about my customers. It’s not all about price all the time. It’s about knowing what you’re doing and putting the right tire on a person’s car and really caring about the work you’re doing.”
Croucher says many of the workers have exceptional dedication to the business.
“We have a young lady, the manager at our Masontown location, who is in a wheelchair. She worked for me before her accident, which paralyzed her from the chest down. She came back to work and sells more tires than anyone else I have. She’s pretty dynamic.”
Croucher also is a major supporter within the community. Her stores service the local fire department and she regularly sponsors local athletics, including the local Special Olympics.
“I think every business should be involved with their community somehow,” she says. “I think it’s our civic duty to be involved. As long as it’s local, we put out for it because if it wasn’t for the community, we wouldn’t be here.”