Les Schwab

It’s not that I like spending my afternoons in the lobby of Les Schwab Tire Center. In fact, to be honest, I probably would never set foot in another Les Schwab (or any other tire place) if I didn’t have to.

Nonetheless, here I am. Just a few minutes ago, my family and I pulled up to the home of Grandpa Don in Rathdrum, Idaho, the first stop on our 2,000 mile road trip. The moment I got out of the car, I heard a hissing sound from one of the tires. A few seconds of observation revealed that air was slowly leaking from a hole created by a small nail.

We hurried the kids inside and I jumped back in the car and drove the 4 miles back to Les Schwab. We have the fix-a-flat aerosol cans in our car, but they can be messy. And I’m wearing my new jeans.

There are road closures and diversions right outside Les Schwab so finding the entrance was a pain.

But once I was inside, I handed the gentleman behind the counter my keys and gave him a little bit of information. He immediately pulled my car into the service bay. I can see him working now through the large windows. The entire process is completely transparent.

In a moment he will come back in. I’ve been to Les Schwab enough times to know what will happen after that. He will make small talk for a moment while he types on his computer, and then he will hand me my keys and a receipt, and he will wish me a nice day.

I will ask him about the price and he will tell me that tire repairs are free.

Thanks Les!

I know why they do that: people appreciate the kindness and are more likely to come here to spend money on more expensive tire-related business. It’s a basic freemium model, used by Les Schwab since before freemium was a word.

But I’m probably never going to come here again. He knows this; the out-of-state license plates are pretty hard to miss.

Plus I’m wearing flip flops with socks – obviously the attire of someone on vacation.

So what is it that makes a total stranger do the rather filthy work of fixing my tire for free, knowing that I will never be able to reciprocate the kindness? In short, the miracle of the free market. The people who work here are paid by another group of people who have an interest in me receiving free tire repair. This third party, the capitalists who own the company, know that they can expect some benefit from me – they have a shop less than a mile from my home. To these capitalists, the expense of paying their employees to fix tires for free in Rathdrum is justified by the expected benefit: my future business at another location hundreds of miles away.

The man who is fixing my tire doesn’t see the situation in the same way I do. To me, it’s a free tire repair. To him, it is his contractual responsibility, for which he will be paid an amount proportional to the time it takes to do the repair.

The three people involved in this transaction all believe they have benefited from it. All three think they are the winner. And here’s the real mind-screw (give me a break, this is a family blog): all three of us are right. We each win. The man repairing my tire gets paid, the capitalist owners of the company can expect me to return some day to spend money (which they love), and I get a free tire repair.

This kind of mutually beneficial transaction is characteristic of the market, where, because each transaction is wholly consensual, each party to every transaction believes that he has got the better end of the deal.

It’s been 20 minutes since I came in here. The tire is fixed and is being put back on the car right now. In the professional racing league that is popular around here, this process would have taken a few seconds. But the people that can change a tire in that kind of time are expensive to hire. And the work isn’t free.

Beside, a blog post written in just a few seconds isn’t going to be very long, is it?