There are many reasons why I love being part of a company and being involved in the art of business. Competition, teamwork, the continual testing of individual character, the pride people take in good work and the happiness I feel when clients notice our efforts. When I see other companies operating flawlessly, that makes me happy too – and it inspires me to achieve that same perfection. One event in particular stands as a benchmark to where I want to take our company.
In late July, my family and I rented a 31-foot RV and drove from our home in Portland, Oregon to western Montana, to spend a week with the extended family. This wasn’t our maiden voyage in a rented motorhome — we had gone once before and had a great time — so it wasn’t hard for my wife and kids to talk me into another journey. This time we even invited my mother to fly in from New Jersey to join us on the trip. So, there I was driving off with my wife, two daughters (ages five and eight), my mom, my 11-year old dog, and enough supplies to last us a year.
The trip started well. Everyone had settled in to their trip routines: the dog was asleep in the back, my mother was reading one of her many books, the kids were both watching movies, and my wife and I were listening to music and catching up. About 90 miles in, the RV started to vibrate a little, so I decided to pull over to check for any obvious problems — but I didn’t see anything.
Soon the vibration had turned into a loud rattle. The kids tried to assure me that it was just the road, and I found myself trying to believe that they were right, but then I came to my senses. At that point, fear set in that we might be stranded on the highway at any moment. I knew we needed a solution that could avert this disaster, so I asked my wife to see if she could find a Les Schwab in the area. Luckily, even though we were in a fairly remote area in northeast Oregon, there was one just two miles away.
Les Schwab, for those that don’t know, is a tire business built on honest, ethical service with over 450 locations throughout the west coast. I have been a fan of them since I moved to Oregon and began taking my vehicles to the Hillsboro, Oregon location for tire issues. In fact, I occasionally even feel bad because I have taken my cars there so many times to have nails and other objects removed, which Les Schwab doesn’t charge you for—so, I was happy to give them some business.
When I stepped out of the RV, a Les Schwab employee introduced himself and asked how he could help. I briefly explained my situation and he showed me where to move the RV so that someone could take a look. Within two minutes, they had someone looking at the vehicle, and, not long after that, the gentleman who had originally greeted me introduced me to the person at the front desk and explained the problem. I felt like an Indy Car racer with my own pit crew. It turned out that I had four bad tires, one with a huge bubble in it, which was causing all the vibration and was only moments from bursting.
While Les Schwab didn’t have the exact tires to match the others, they did have four that would work. My family and I sat in the store, had some drinks, ate popcorn, and talked about how lucky we were. About forty minutes later we were back in the RV, listening to the mechanic explain that we needed to torque the tires in about 75 miles, in case they loosened up. Fortunately, there was another Les Schwab in southeastern Washington, which was right on our way to our final destination.
As we pulled back onto the highway, my wife and I laughed about how much different the ride was. For the next 75 miles, before we arrived at the next Les Schwab, I reflected about how incredible an experience we just had. Every single person at Les Schwab went out of the way to be proactive, pleasant, and competent. A single weak link in the chain would have been noticeable and my experience as a customer would have suffered. In fact, I was reluctant to stop at the next Les Schwab, because the employees there might have shattered the expectation that I had developed based on our last stop. But they didn’t let me down. It was the exact same experience! I walked into the store and a very pleasant woman asked how she could help. She flagged down a mechanic, and he actually jogged out to the parking lot with his torque wrench in hand. The mechanic was pleasant, we cracked a few jokes, and five minutes after we pulled in, we were on the road again. Once again, a full pit crew with no charge.
I reflected on this experience for the rest of our trip. I found my thoughts boiling down to one central question: Why did this experience make me so happy? Obviously, there was the tragedy-being-averted aspect. But, it wasn’t that simple.
Les Schwab didn’t get to where they are by accident. I know how hard it is to build a company from scratch and how hard it is to take a company to the never-ending “next level.” As consumers, we can appreciate the service that companies like Les Schwab give, but what we don’t see is the struggle that most definitely takes place, day in and day out, year in and year out. I am in awe of companies that pull off flawless business. It feels like watching a pitcher throw a perfect game. Just as we don’t see the personal sacrifice of the pitcher, the many years of training, the failures, or the internal questioning, we likewise don’t see the personal sacrifice of each employee in a company, the tough decisions, or the mistakes. All we see is the perfect game. I don’t believe events like this bring us joy because someone is doing something that we couldn’t do, as some say, but rather because we are witnessing the culmination of all that hard work and talent coming together in a perfect way.
Unlike a pitcher’s perfect game, when a company operates perfectly, we, the consumers, see tangible benefits. It makes our day a little better. It makes life a little more pleasant. Thank you, Les Schwab for taking care of my tires, and, more importantly, thank you for inspiring me to keep trying to build a better company.