Gary Butrick, owner of Carlton Tire, steps out into the waiting room from the back office, his white hair and beard shining in the sun. “You doing okay?” he asks a waiting customer, who nods. Another person steps in the room. “How can I help you?” he asks.
“I need some tires,” the woman begins. She’s in her mid-sixties. “But I can’t spend a lot of money.”
“Let’s go take a look,” Gary opens the door for her, then they step outside. I see them walking around her late ‘90’s battered Ford Taurus. Soon they walk back in, and Gary looks at some numbers. “I’ve got a set of used tires that should fit that. They’ve still got good wear.”
The lady looks concerned. “How much will it cost?”
“Let’s see,” Gary pauses. It’ll run $285.”
The woman’s face pales. “I can’t pay it all now.”
“Don’t worry,” Gary pats her on the back. “You just pay what you can when you can.”
She visibly relaxes, her eyes filled with gratitude. “Thank you so much.”
“No problem. We’ll get you taken care of.” Gary then turns to me. “What can I help you with?
“I’ve got a flat tire I need you to look at.”
Gary doesn’t hesitate. “Let’s go.” Within ten seconds we’re the ones outside, looking at the emaciated tire sitting in my trunk. We both eyeball the large screw embedded just off the edge of the tread.
“That doesn’t look good,” he says. “Let’s get it off and see what we can do.”
I head back inside while he walks to the back room. A minute later, he returns to the waiting room. “The tire’s no good,” he says. “The screw scratched the sidewall.”
I’m disheartened. I didn’t plan on purchasing tires today. Gary looks at me. “Don’t worry,” he says brightly. “I’ve got a used one that’s got the same wear.”
“How much will that run me?” I ask.
“$79,” he says, then pauses. “For you, it’s $65 mounted and balanced.” He pauses again. “It might even be the same tire. Let me take a look in the back and see what we can do. We’ll get you set up in no time.”
“Thank you, Gary,” I reply. “I appreciate it.”
Within thirty minutes, I drive out with a matching tire.
However, that wasn’t my first experience with Carlton Tire. They’re my go-to tire place in Lake County and have been for many years. It’s not just the fact that the prices are reasonable; it’s because Gary’s philosophy of business and customer service keep me coming back.
A few days ago, during a short lull in his bustling business day, Gary shared with me. Even though customers regularly came in and out, few waited long.
“It’s your customer service that makes your business so unique,” I say, pulling out my notebook to make sure I write things down correctly.
“It comes naturally,” he tells me. “It all starts with this: Treat everybody the way you want to be treated. Everyone’s time is worth money, not just mine. So when a customer comes in on his day off, that’s like his time is doubly valuable, because I’m taking him away from his free time.” He looks straight in my eyes, overflowing sincerity. “It doesn’t matter if you’re flat broke or a millionaire. Everyone’s the same, and you’re all my friends.”
His business shows it. He moved up from Sac in 1993, when he bought Carlton Tire from the “Old Man” and his wife, Betty. (“Betty always had a mean look in her eyes,” he told me). Back in the city, Gary had successfully managed several stores. He could go into a store with low sales, and within a year, double them.
But it didn’t work that easily in Lake County. The first day Gary took over Carlton Tire, he almost broke the store’s previous daily sales record. “I thought I had it made,” he tells me, chuckling. “But then my sales tanked. The first year was devastating.” He pauses to reconsider the word. “Yeah, that’s right. Devastating. So I went and talked to the Old Man, and he tells me, ‘Son, you’re in Lake County. It ‘ain’t like it’s Sac. You run your business, and don’t worry about no one else.’”
So Gary kept at it, giving people credit on a handshake, only to have them turn up their noses at him, cutting deals for people just to move product. It took him fifteen years to make consistent money. But now he runs one of the most successful businesses in Lakeport, one that always has loyal, committed customers. That’s how I first heard about Carlton Tire: from a neighbor and loyal customer who told me, “Man, you’ve got to go to Carlton. Gary will set you up.”
And that’s what Gary does. Watching him work is like taking a class on how to run a business and treat people well. Every interaction he has is filled with meaning, and it doesn’t matter if he knows you or not; you’ll get a good deal from him.
“How do you do it?” I asked him. “How do you run a successful business?”
Gary looks directly at me, his eyes bright and full of life. “All everybody wants is a little love.” He leans forward. “Just give them love.”
2335 S Main St.
Lakeport CA 95453