WINTERPORT — Who says you have to be in The Big City to run a solid small business that makes you a decent living? Dean Mooers, who has been in the tire business for 25 years, knows that you don’t.
Mooers, owner of Dean’s Discount Tire, was originally on Wilson Street in Brewer, where VIP Auto is today, and later moved across the street. But in 1998 he made the bold decision to leave one of the busiest commercial districts in the region to relocate to 154 Main St., Winterport.
“I just decided to come to Winterport because I like the area and thought it was a good place to do business,” he said.
Instead of an expensive lease, he bought his current building.
“It made more sense to me to buy a place so when I was done I had something for my retirement,” he said. “[In Brewer] I was paying a lot of overhead and, in the end, there wasn’t much left.”
It was a decision that surprised many of his regular customers, but most of them continued to patronize him even after he moved down the river. It shouldn’t surprising; Winterport’s in-town area, where Mooers is located, is just a hair over 13 miles from downtown Bangor.
About 40 percent of Mooers’ business is in new tires, but 60 percent is used tires, a strong niche for him. Although it might seem odd to those of us who run their tires until the treads won’t pass inspection, there are quality used tires out there. Some people replace them regularly, long before they’re worn; others upgrade to better tires or for aesthetic reasons.
And good tires can be found on cars that otherwise end up junked.
The savings can be as much as 50 percent of new-tire costs, according to Mooers. And thanks to the tough economy, people looking to save money are discovering those deals.
“I get a lot of referrals,” Mooers said. “All these people come see me and just refer me to other people. This word-of-mouth thing has been great for me.”
Unlike new tires, there are no federal standards for used tires, which are currently inspected mostly for depth of tread and evenness of wear. Inspections might miss such internal problems as the condition of a steel belt or other inner layers. Recently, there has been a push to develop standards, possibly including a requirement that used-tire wholesalers use special equipment to check for those non-visible things.
Mooers also checks his used tires on a tire machine just in case anything slipped through quality checks from his suppliers; a high-speed spin helps identify hidden problem areas.
“You put it on a rim to check it to see if there are any bad belts and put it on a [tire] balancer to see if it’s out of balance,” Mooers said.
Every used tire he has goes on the tire machine, which gives him a second look at what his suppliers have already done. And the tires look as close to new as one could expect, with deep treads and no uneven wear. If it weren’t for the lack of that telltale shiny black sheen of new tires, you’d be hard pressed to tell they’re used.
Used tires have really taken off, Mooers says, in part because customers don’t often think of future tire expense when they’re car shopping — and they get a big surprise when it comes time to replace them.
“A lot of these cars and trucks today, they (people) buy a new car, and they don’t check the price of tires,” he said. “Some of them are anywhere from $1,000 to $1,200 [for a set of tires]. It’s sticker shock.”
Mooers admits that used tires might not be for everyone, which is why he carries new tires as well. Between new and used, he has 500 to 600 tires for cars and light trucks in stock at any time, and is happy to go head to head with the big tire shops.
“It’s tough, but I’ve got a niche, the used tires,” Mooers said. “And I’m competitive on the new, too.”