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Tire Dealer Profile: Direct Tire and Auto Services

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Full Disclosure: I am beginning a series of profiles on various independent tire dealers with articles on several dealers in my local area that I know very well. I know these dealerships well because in my previous incarnation as a wheel repair technician, I did quite a bit of business with these dealerships. Since my small business did not keep tires in stock, when we needed to replace a customer's damaged tires we went to local dealers to get them. Many local dealers gave our business wholesale rates and often referred their customers with damaged wheels to us. On the one hand, it means that I know the businesses and the people involved personally. On the other hand, this could be considered a conflict of interest. I will attempt to be as honest in these profiles as I will be when profiling dealers I have not had personal relationships with, but I believe that my readers should know when I could be biased.

Direct Tire has been practically a Massachusetts institution for decades. From their humble beginnings in suburban Watertown, owner Barry Steinberg has built Direct Tire into a local powerhouse boasting four locations around the state, 65 full-time employees, one of the better websites in the business and catchy pun-filled slogans including, “We'll Fix It Until It Brakes” and “We'll Brake, Shock And Exhaust You.”

Services: Direct Tire is an independent tire dealer which carries some 15 different brands of tires and a wide variety of aluminum and steel wheels.

Direct is also not just a tire and wheel retailer, providing an entire slate of auto repair services. These services include brakes and shocks, alignment, electrical systems, AC systems, steering, transmissions, exhaust systems and more. They have traditionally been very well regarded both within the industry and among customers for their quality of service

Customer Service: Direct Tire says that their philosophy is to “strive to develop relationships, not just customers”, and concentrates on “service excellence, smart value and our emphasis on convenience.”

That service excellence includes comfortable and well-appointed waiting areas, some very well-trained customer service reps, free auto safety checks, free rotation and balancing, free flat repair and seasonal changes, road hazard warranties and fully ASE certified mechanics. Convenience is provided by shuttle services, and - pretty rare in this business - a Loaner Car program. Mr. Steinberg says, “We've got 23 loaner cars in the fleet, and people do love getting them... it's really made life a lot easier for our customers for years. We just had a car come in on a tow truck with two flat tires... [the customer] was upset because she had to go pick up her kids, and when we offered her a loaner car... it was like we gave her the world... beyond happy.”

I can say from experience that Direct Tire's service reps are generally helpful and knowledgeable about their tires, as well as being extremely knowledgeable about wheel fitment issues. They tend to be very brand-neutral in their advice, not pushing one brand over another except inasmuch as any independent tire dealer naturally wants to push what they have in inventory.

Mr. Steinberg also keeps an eye on the age of tires in his inventory, and is careful and knowledgeable about the issues of tire aging. “If I got a shipment of tires in a tire was more than 2 years old, I would send it back, simply because by the time I sell it, and the guy's going to have it on his car for four, five years, that's going to be an old tire at that point.”

Inventory: Direct carries a very wide variety of the best tire brands, from BFGoodrich to Yokohama, and is also one of the few Massachusetts independent dealers that carries Nokian tires. They also have a pretty good selection of both aluminum and steel wheels.

When I asked Mr. Steinberg just what brands of wheels Direct Tire carries, he said, “Well we carry just about every brand on the market... I mean there's so many brands out there, we cover a full gamut, if somebody wants one we'll find it. Anything from BBS to Enkei... We source just about every manufacturer in the country.”

Website: Direct's website is one of the best out there, with easy navigation and an excellent tire search function which allows a search by tire size, car make/model or by brand, although prices are only available by submitting a request for a quote. For those shopping for wheels, the site offers an iConfigurator, which allows you to see how various wheels will look on your car. An extensive Learning Center gives quite a bit of information on everything from brake service to winterizing, although curiously there is no section on tires or wheels.

Currently, Direct Tire is running a jaw-droppingly unique campaign with Nokian's well regarded summer daily driver, the Nokian eNTyre. The deal is that Direct is offering a full lifetime warranty on a set of eNTyres. No, not the life of the tires – the life of the car. Direct will replace the tires, for free, for any reason, for as long as you own the car. If they wear out, Direct will replace them. I asked Mr. Steinberg if this was a Nokian promotion I hadn't heard about, or if Direct was doing this themselves. He replied, “No, that's just me being 'Crazy Barry.' We did it with Toyos for many, many years back in the early 90's, sold zillions of tires and it put our name on the map... People just love the idea that they can pay one price and never have to worry about tires again.”

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