Setting the “Gold Standard” for automotive excellence is the way Steve Leffler has run Suburban Tire for over 30 years. In the last 15, Steve has also set his sights on delivering the “Green Standard” for sustainability.
“Our goal is to be carbon neutral by 2025,” says Steve about his five-location tire dealership in the Chicagoland area.
And, Suburban Tire is well on its way. In fact, Steve boasts he has the “World’s Greenest Tire Store” in his Hanover Park location. The store, built to LEED Gold certification standards, has over 50 upgrades to make it “extra green,” including solar panels on the building, geothermal heating and cooling, motion sensor lighting and a high-efficiency air compressor.
“We buy wind energy credits for our electricity consumption, and our next biggest source of CO2 emissions is our vehicles. Switching to electric loaner vehicles will take another big bite out of our carbon footprint,” says Steve, who hopes to transition his loaner car fleet over time.
As the hallmark of its sustainability efforts, Suburban Tire recently became the first and only independent tire dealer to join the Global Platform for Sustainable Natural Rubber (GPSNR), a partnership between dozens of tire companies, car manufacturers, civil society entities and natural rubber producers, that aims to improve the sustainability of the global natural rubber supply chain. In fact, the dealership purchases tires made only by GPSNR members who have committed to use sustainably produced natural rubber.
All this, and you may be surprised to learn that Steve never intended to become an independent tire dealer.
He actually wanted to be a forest ranger after graduating from the University of Illinois. Then, on the day he graduated in 1990 with a master’s degree in biogeography, his dad, Duke Leffler, passed away from cancer. He and his brothers, Gordon and Jon, were needed to pitch in at the family business.
“My plan was to get into the tire business, raise a family, hand my business off to one of my kids, and then refocus my life toward my passion for environmental work in my mid-‘50s,” Steve says.
A reorganization of the business in 2012 left Steve as the sole owner of two Suburban Tire stores. With the help of his son, Nathan, the business’ general manger, they have since grown the dealership’s footprint with a sixth location on the way, all while maintaining its “Gold Standard” of service.
“It means giving outstanding customer service, being truthful with the customer, offering excellent service, fixing their cars properly, getting them done on time and having a professional salesman help them through the process,” Steve explains about the Gold Standard. Steve tells his staff: “Be brutally honest and surrender the outcome.”
Taking the dealership’s “Gold Standard” to the sustainability realm has paid off, Steve says. One tangible result? The energy consumption at its Hanover Park store is about a third less than their store in St. Charles, Illinois, which is a similar size.
“The initial investment for the upgrades added about 10% to the cost of the building, but the ROI was realized in about a decade,” Steve says. “If you’re in the business for the long run, it makes sense to build green.”
Both Steve and Nathan are constantly thinking of new ways to make their business greener. As an example, they’re currently looking into offering re-refined oil for an eco-friendlier oil change. Steve says, “using re-refined oil is one more way to minimize oil extraction, one of the dirtiest industries on the planet.”
As Steve looks to hand off the keys to the business, his focus will remain on spreading sustainability across the tire industry as his plan to become the “World’s Greenest Tire Dealer” comes to fruition.
“Sustainability is part of our corporate culture,” Steve says. “Our industry is slow to pick it up. We’re not a naturally clean industry, but we can do a much better job.”