More than a catchy jingle, the Tire Lady explains how Rainbow Tire came to be.
Written by Rachel Nieman
Photographed by Elizabeth Roth
This article was originally published in the April/May 2014 issue.
“If I didn’t do anything else, I built a brand,” says the Tire Lady, wearing her signature overalls and red kerchief, her trusty dog Sissy by her side.
She’s known for her signature jingle in the 2008 YouTube video featuring Morgantown rapper 6’6” 240. It has memorable lyrics like, “If your rims ain’t spinnin’ and the women ain’t diggin’ ’cuz they see how you’re livin’, you gotta go and see the Tire Lady.” The Tire Lady enters the scene first in her trademark garb, and when that isn’t thug enough for 6’6” 240, she returns in a baggy tee, backwards hat, and a gold chain with giant gold letters TL—which she made herself, by the way.
“You have to stay with the times,” she says. The tune lured in plenty of new business, young and old alike, and loyal customers loved it, too. “Some of my little old ladies thought it was the cutest thing,” she laughs. She recalls one woman in particular who called her to say it was the ugliest video she’d ever seen—but that she’d like to make an appointment right away.
But the Tire Lady’s story goes much further back. In 1984 Chris Croucher had no idea she would one day become the Tire Lady. She opened a small gas station in Pennsylvania next to the Rainbow Tavern and chose Rainbow Service Center for her business name. “I was pumping gas and making a nickel a gallon. This old man named Hank came in every Friday in his Ford pickup. I’d pump his gas and wash his windshield. He told me I ought to sell used tires,” she says. “I was raised to have manners, so I didn’t tell him he was crazy, which is what I thought.”
Hank was persistent, and each week Chris politely declined until he had an offer she just couldn’t refuse. “One day he came in with a tire machine, an old Coats 1010. He told me if I bought his used tires, he’d give me this tire machine. It was just plain tuckered out. You had to stand back because the thing was so dangerous. It would just let loose and—bam!—throw the bar up against the wall. Sometimes the bar and the tire up against the wall.”
She changed tires like that for a year, and people were buying them left and right. She made $5 off each used tire she sold—much more profitable than a nickel per gallon. A year later she had saved enough money to buy a new machine. “I thought there was something wrong with the new tire machine because it didn’t hit the wall,” she laughs. “It’s a good thing somebody told me that was how they were actually supposed to work.”
The new equipment helped her business gain steam. In 1986 she decided the gas station wasn’t worth the trouble so she moved to Monongalia County and opened the first Rainbow Tire store in Dellslow east of Morgantown. By 1989 she was able to buy the property to open her Masontown location in Preston County, where she was given the Tire Lady moniker by a farmer down the road.
Aside from the notorious rap song, Rainbow Tire also has a country jingle that sums up the business. “The jingle says, ‘The Tire Lady takes care of me,’” Chris sings. “That’s really the truth. We strive for customer loyalty every day.” The Morgantown shop was established in 2008 after research showed folks were coming from as far away as Blacksville in western Monongalia County. The latest venture has been successful, and Rainbow Tire has continued to research to see how to best serve customers. One thing Chris has focused on is building trust with customers—especially women.
We try to take care of females and make sure they feel they did not get ripped off in any way. We absolutely do care, and that makes the difference.
“We cater to a female clientele. Over 50 percent of my customers now are women. Ten years ago that was not the case. We try to take care of females and make sure they feel they did not get ripped off in any way,” she says. Women work in both locations, and Chris tells her mechanics to treat each job as if it were their mothers’ cars. “We absolutely do care, and that makes the difference,” she says.
Although she’s in the minority, the Tire Lady says being a woman wasn’t a stumbling block to entering the industry. “I didn’t allow anything to stop me or anyone to discriminate against me. I guess I’d have to say I have a strong personality. I wasn’t about to let anyone bully me around,” she says. Today she employs 16 people and says they’re all like family.
Chris is known to always have a story to tell, and she says she plans to write a book when she retires—if she retires. She’s excited to see what the future will hold. “I saw another location that would be just excellent for Rainbow Tire,” she says. “Everyone’s telling me I’m crazy, but I can’t help it. When you’re in business, you get a fire in your belly, and once you have that fire you can’t help yourself.”
Rainbow Tire is open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.