Les Schwab Tire suspends plans to sell company, citing coronavirus

Les Schwab Tire Centers has suspended efforts to sell the Bend company, saying prospective buyers cannot easily evaluate the business’ value during the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s just a period where travel has been severely affected, and (potential buyers) want to travel to visit our shops and meet with people,” chief marketing officer Dale Thompson told the Tire Business industry site in an article published Monday. “We think it was the mutually appropriate thing to pause right now and restart at a future date.”

Schwab Tire announced plans to sell the 68-year-old business in December, shaking up an Oregon institution. Bloomberg News reported that the family-owned company sought at least $3 billion from the sale.

Company founder Les Schwab, his wife and both his children have all died. The business is now owned by his grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren, none of whom have an active role running the company.

The decision to sell put the future of one of Oregon’s best-known businesses in doubt. The company’s headquarters are in Bend and it serves nearly 500 stores through a single distribution facility in Prineville – the small, relatively remote town where Les Schwab started the business in 1952.

Schwab Tire said annual sales last year were approximately $1.8 billion.

Schwab Tire did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment Monday. Thompson told Tire Business that a sale might potentially break up the business – a possibility the company hadn’t previously acknowledged. That could have a dramatic effect on Schwab Tire’s operations in Central Oregon.

The coronavirus pandemic has profoundly reduced auto traffic throughout the country, with fewer people traveling for vacation and work. Auto travel in Oregon was down more than 40% in the early days of the pandemic and remains down about 20% compared to this time last year.

“We certainly saw a drop in sales and gradual recovery (in the first half of the year),” Thompson told Tire Dealer. “We’ve had a little stronger recovery lately. It’s been a cycle, and people seem eager to get out and drive again.”

— Mike Rogoway | mrogoway@oregonian.com | twitter: @rogoway | 503-294-7699

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