Belle Tire Distributors

Allen Park, Mich.-based Belle Tire Distributors Inc.’s motto is “Customer satisfaction is our bottom line,” and the 86- year-old company does everything in its power to live up to it.

“Our motto is not just a saying; it’s something we live and breathe,” says Don Barnes III, operations and marketing manager for the company.

Belle Tire tries to instill this attitude in its workers at its 80 locations in Michigan and northern Ohio, through a training program for management and sales representatives. The company educates employees periodically throughout the year on all aspects of the business, including customer scenarios, to improve their customer service skills. The company has taken employee education to the next step with its mechanical training school, which will open in April at its headquarters.

The courses provide employees with tools, a written curriculum and hands-on training with customer’s cars. In return, participating customers will receive a “substantial” discount when technicians- in-training work on their vehicles. Employees will graduate from the program once they achieve their Automotive Service Excellence-certification, a test for which Belle will reimburse them. “This way, we are able to train people with real vehicle scenarios,” Barnes explains.


Other than its training, Barnes says Belle’s strength is its continuous innovation. The most recent example of this is the auto glass, windshield repair and replacement program it implemented in October. The company expanded its windshield division to send technicians out to customers’ homes and workplaces to repair or replace their broken windshields. It has 20 vans available for its mobile service, and trains technicians in its retail locations to provide this service, as well. “Belle Tire offers all light service work from brakes, shocks, struts alignments and front-end [work] – and felt this was an excellent opportunity to provide another quick, convenient service to our customers,” Barnes explains.

Barnes says the auto glass program is already getting “a really good” response. “A lot of people are excited, because it’s one less thing they have to go to the dealer for,” he says.

The company says it was also one of the first to offer nitrogen inflation, as opposed to oxygen, for tires. Barnes says nitrogen is superior to oxygen in tires because it is a dry, inert gas. Moisture is not good for tires because it causes tires to expand and contract with temperature changes, Barnes says. This leads to uneven wear and is bad for the car’s gas efficiency, he explains. “Nitrogen has a much lower moisture content [than oxygen],” he says. “The moisture in the air leads to corrosion of the wheel, which leads to rim leaks. Tires filled with nitrogen can help prevent corrosion.” Belle began offering this as a free service in 2001, and by 2005, all its locations were giving it. “A lot of our competitors charge $10 to $15 per tire, which we provide for free,” Barnes says.

Barnes says customers expect a variety of parts to be in stock at retail tires stores.

“Fifteen years ago, you could have 100 different types of tires in stock that would cover 98 percent of the cars on the road,” Barnes recalls. “Now, there are a lot more vehicles coming in, with different size tires and different applications, where companies have to cover a broader range of tires.” Because of this demand, Belle moved to a 306,000-square-foot warehouse and office headquarters in February, which has more than 250,000 tires and more than 1,000 parts in stock every day.

“As far as tire, wheel and autoparts warehousing goes, it’s as state-of-the-art as you can get,” Barnes says. “The merchandise is all bar-coded, which lets us know the location of any item at any given point.

“We’re always looking to the latest and greatest technology to keep us ahead of the game,” Barnes says. “We’re always growing, whether it be our state-of-the-art warehouse distribution center or by offering nitrogen inflation, or trying to be that one-stop shop. We’re looking to be ahead of the game in every aspect.”

Barnes says the company’s main challenge has been surviving in the Michigan economy, which has been crippled with major layoffs in the U.S. automobile manufacturing plants that constitute much of the state’s employment.

“Michigan has 10 years’worth of inventory for houses people are trying to sell,” Barnes says. “We’ve seen a lot of people prolonging service and trying to save every penny they can. We’re doing everything we can to fight through these hard times, just one battle at a time.”


Belle Tire was founded in 1922 by Sam Waze, who named the store after his wife. Maze’s son, Herb, took over the single retail location in the early 1960s.

Barnes’ grandfather, Don Barnes Sr.,was a Kelly salesman at the time. “He called on Belle Tire, and ended up buying interest in the company,” Barnes says. “He turned it over completely by 1979.”

Barnes says that even though the company encompasses 80 locations, it still is a family owned business that cares about all of its employees. “I think it’s a great place to work,” Barnes says. “A real company does everything [it] can to really show that all the employees matter, and I think we do that. “Even though people may think of us as a big company, we think of ourselves as a small, family owned company. Even though we have close to 2,000 employees, everybody knows everybody.”

Barnes says the company takes care of its employees, and treats them like family members. The company throws Christmas parties and summer picnics, and encourages employees to bring their families.

“Belle Tire doesn’t offer jobs; we offer tremendous career and growth opportunities,” the company says. “Many of our employees have over 20 years with us. We also offer excellent medical and dental benefits, 401k plan, paid time off, life and disability insurance and employee perks to include exotic vacations and bonuses that are performance based. Most importantly, we offer opportunity. While many companies are unfortunately downsizing and laying off employees, Belle Tire is looking to double in size and revenue in the next few years.”

Barnes says “when all is said and done, it is our people that matter the most. We take great pride in helping them grow.” When selecting employees,Barnes says he looks for a “do-whatever it takes” personality. “Even our managers and people in the office don’t mind getting their hands dirty,” he notes. “There’s a saying throughout the company: ‘If you’re not growing, then you’re dying. To be successful, we have to continue to grow. By rewarding people, investing our time and money in our people and with customer satisfaction as our bottom line, we can continue to grow.”

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