Ken’s Tires Center celebrates 40 years in South Lake Tahoe
On August 18, 1978, one of the first things owner Tim Borge did on the day he took over the business was fire everybody, making him the sole employee. While that may not seem like the best business practice, Borge had his reasons for making such a drastic decision.
Borge started his career out of college working for Goodyear where he eventually worked his way up to district manager, covering everything from Visalia, California to Klamath Falls, Oregon. This eventually led to Borge to become familiar with well-known Tahoe local, Ken Gordon, who owned and operated several gas stations around the Tahoe Basin.
According to Borge, Gordon opened Ken’s Tires Center because he wanted to separate the tire and service repair business from his gas stations and operate it as a stand-alone business. By the summer of 1978, Gordon was ready to sell and he called up Borge with an amount that he initially turned down. A week later, Gordon followed up with another offer that was more enticing.
“I hadn’t seen the store so I told him I’d look at it and get back to him,” said Borge. “ I walked in, waited for a few minutes and eventually peeked around the corner in the manager’s office and he was reading the paper and told me he’d be with me a minute.”
The rest of the staff was similarly non-attentive, which needless to say, Borge knew wouldn’t work in a customer-service based business environment. However, Borge made an offer that Gordon accepted.
“They had ticked off so many customers, I had to work my rump off that first month,” added Borge. “Every night I would go to the pubs and get to know the bartenders, the waitresses and the people next to them because I didn’t have a budget to advertise. I hit every business that was open after I closed and offered them discounts for repair — and it worked.”
During that first year, Borge lived in the apartment above the shop and kept hustling. He started his days at 5 a.m. and worked until the last customer left, which in the wintertime could be as late as 9 p.m. Borge’s hard work eventually paid off and he was able to hire more staff. One of which was his daughter, Jaime Harness, who stepped into the business almost six years ago.
“I moved back (to Tahoe) once I was married and had a family and knew one day I wanted to take over the business,” said Harness. “Our managers were 30 years-in and I asked Dad what the plan was when they retired. He wasn’t quite sure if he would simply close or sell and I said, ‘like hell you are going to close this business.’”
From that point on, Harness was all-in to learn the business from the ground up, and according to her, being a female in automotive the industry isn’t easy.
“You get people who say there’s no way you know more about my truck than I do,” added Harness. “If I don’t, I got someone in the back that does, but I usually do.”
Harness shares the passion that her father opened the business with. Perhaps the key component to that foundation has been their dedication to customer service. While Harness admits that they are still “old school” in many of the things they do, she feels that it’s why they are still there.
“We’re nothing fancy,” adds Harness. “We want to keep our values, be honest, and make customer service, by far, our number one goal. We want everyone to feel like family — it’s who we are, it’s what we do.”
Their dedication to customer service may not have changed over the 40 years in business, but it’s quite evident the world around them in Tahoe has. When asked about what’s changed the most, Borge noted it was the population. Whether it’s decreasing regular customers or finding the right employees, there’s a lot smaller base of people to pull from given all the challenges the basin has seen over the past few years.
They are not the only business in town to struggle with this. But after 40 years they’ve been able to manage their business around this challenge and still be successful.
When asking Borge for advice to successfully navigate a business in Tahoe for 40 years, he responded that it was difficult given the current housing situation and the availability for the younger demographic. However, he did offer some deeper insight.
“The harder you work, the luckier you get and when the customer’s wrong, the customer’s always right. You can’t be perfect 100 percent of the time, but you have to handle situations to the conclusion so that the customer will come back.”
Whether it’s your first year starting out, or 40 years in, that’s pretty solid advice for any business.
Ken’s Tire Center is located at 2104 Lake Tahoe Blvd. For more information call them at 530-541-1505.