There is a stack of correspondence — most with invitations to dinner, or to simply “B.S.” — illustrating the 60-year business and personal relationship between Lauren Young and Les Schwab.
Schwab – who died in 2007 after building what is arguably the most respected independent tire store chain in the country – probably saw a little of himself in the scrappy and ambitious Lauren Young.
Schwab leveraged everything he had to buy his first tire store in Prineville, Oregon, in 1954. He was already 34 years old, with an 11-year-old son and a baby on the way and had never even fixed a flat before, according to his one biography.
By the time he died, there were 410 Les Schwab stores in the Western United States doing a combined $1.6 billion in sales.
Six years after Les Schwab purchased his first tire store, 28-year-old Lauren Young decided he needed a career change. “While delivering fire wood, I stopped by the O.K. Rubber Welders, where I bought tires, and told the owner I would like to have a service station, or something of my own. Something more profitable than the wood business,” he said.
Lauren was a fifth generation resident of Lakeview, Oregon, and married to his high school sweetheart Dena. They had two daughters by the time he purchased his first tire store in 1960.
“In two weeks we were in the tire business,” Lauren recalled. “I knew nothing about the business, except how to handle long hours and hard work. I received my degree in business on the job and mostly from Les (Schwab).”
By 1969, Lauren and Dena Young were ready for a change. Their two daughters — Carla and Carmen — were in high school and there was an opportunity to open a Les Schwab store in Roseburg. The store hosted a grand opening July 12, just days before astronaut Neal Armstrong took his historic step onto the moon’s surface.
Fifty years later, the Lauren Young Tire Center on Northeast Stephens Street is still in business and the Young family has blossomed with grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Business has expanded along with the Young family. The Les Schwab Tire Center in Sutherlin — owned and operated by Carla (Young) and Scott Cameron — celebrated its 20th anniversary this summer and the Tri-City Lauren Young Tire Center is celebrating its 44th year in business. The Lauren Young Tire Center has also operated on Diamond Lake Blvd. for the past 38 years. It is managed by Lauren and Dena’s grandson T.J. Cameron.
Lauren Young credits his professional and personal success to his wife Dena. The two celebrated 68 years of marriage this year.
Les Schwab asked Lauren to write a letter detailing the keys to his success. It was intended to inspire company employees.
“The many decisions that have been made through the years, Dena and I have made together,” Lauren wrote. “I do honestly believe there are very few truly successful managers that don’t communicate with their spouse.”
Lauren’s strong work ethic was shaped early. “I worked in the hay fields when I was 11,” he said. “It was 1944 during World War II and most of the men in the country were in the service.”
At 86 years old, Lauren has slowed a bit, but he and Dena still go to the office almost every day. And when they aren’t working, you can generally find them involved in one of many community non-profits. Their success has allowed the Young family to give back to the Douglas County community.