The Nordstrom tire return story is true
The Nordstrom tire return story, often thought of as a piece of fiction used to demonstrate the length the department store would go to serve its customers, is true.
Pete Nordstrom, president of the company that bears his family name, recently hosted an episode of “The Nordy Pod” to explore the story’s origins and its impact on the company. The show included an interview with Craig Trounce, the sales associate behind the story.
Mr. Trounce, who currently serves as the manager of the Phoenix contact centers, guest care services for Alaska Airlines, was a sales associate working at a Nordstrom store in Fairbanks in 1979 when a local “hermit” named Sam entered the store carrying two tires.
“I came up to ask him if I can help them and share that I think he’s in the wrong place,” said Mr. Trounce. “I did try to tell him that, you know, Northern Commercial [the previous tenant of the building] no longer exists. And as you can see, we’re a clothing retailer. We don’t carry tires and he said, ‘No, this is the building that I bought these in’ and I said, ‘How long ago did you buy them?’ And he said, ‘A couple of years ago, and they assured me that if they didn’t work out, I could bring them back. And here they are.’”
Mr. Trounce recounted the role his manager played in the interaction.
“My manager was actually standing at the curtain for the back stock for men’s shoes. And I could see him and at one point he was going to walk out but then as I started engaging with the customer, he halted and stopped and waited to see how I was going to follow through with it. And he kept kind of nodding like I was moving in the right direction. And so I figured if I was crossing any boundaries, he would step out because he was viewing the entire situation.”
Mr. Trounce called a local Firestone dealer to try and gauge the value ($25) of the tires that Sam was returning without a receipt. Sam got his refund.
Mr. Nordstrom shared that some of the retailer’s stores today have tires located near the employee entrances with signs that read “recreate the tire story or what’s your tires story or make a tire story today.” The legend lives on.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What role does storytelling around acts of service, like the tire story, play in creating a culture focused on customer happiness? Is it both possible and smart to build a retail customer service culture similar to Nordstrom in this day and age?