A family thing that’s been proudly keeping
the wheels turning for forty years.

Hello! Where are we and who are you?
Niko: This is Radial Oy. I am Niko, and this is my father, Jari Tiilikainen.

Since when has this shop been functioning?
Niko: It was founded by my grandfather in 1972. My father has been working here for around thirty-five years, and I myself for five.

Is the family from Helsinki, or did you come from somewhere else?
Niko: We are originally from here, yes.

Do you live up there above the shop?
Niko: No, there’s nothing up there. We live about a kilometer away from here.

This is a very specialized shop. What do you do exactly?
Niko: Everything related to tires. We sell tires and rims, we fix punctures, we change them when they get too worn out, we balance them. And we do the winter / summer tire switch.

Jari, you have been with tires for thirty-five years; are you a tire-guru now?
Jari: There’s always something new to learn…

What significant changes have you seen in tire development for everyday cars, through time?
Jari: Well, tires have been getting bigger and wider. The profile of the wheels has been steadily widening through the years, which improves driving. But I would say the most important development is the radial tire. Do you know what it is?

Please explain it in layman’s terms.
Jari: Modern tires (we’re talking after the 60s) have inside, pressed inside layers of rubber, a sort of thick web of cords made of nylon or other materials depending on the brand, and running either radially from the center, or at an angle. This mass of cords is sealed inside the rubber, and during use it makes the tire tough but very flexible and bouncy, and also more durable. And that’s great for the drivers, because roads in Finland are not so good.

What? You’ve never been much out of Finland, I can tell…
Jari: (laughs) Yeah, the roads are not bad, but the problem is the winter season. The winter tires have these metal studs for extra grip on snow and ice, and they cause a lot of harm to the road surface. Sweden, Norway, Finland, Estonia and Russia use studded tires, and they all suffer the expensive problem of reconstructing the roads after winter. Other countries, like Switzerland or Canada, only use them in certain areas, like mountains or places where it snows a lot (they use chains also). And here in Finland the maintenance crews dump this salty mix that melts the snow after storms, which also contributes to pavement deterioration.

What cars do you guys drive?
Niko: A Toyota Hiace and a Volvo S90.

…Which of course have both totally worn-out tires, because “the shoemaker’s children go barefoot”?
(both laugh) Not in this case; both cars have fresh sets of tires.

Is the tire business profitable? Do you make a living?
Niko: Yeah. We are three people working here (my uncle also works in the mornings) and we are doing okay. Of course business changes according to the seasons.

Jari: In autumn and spring we’ve got more movement because of the tire switch.

And how’s competition?
Jari: It’s pretty tough. In a five kilometer radius around Helsinki, there are some fifty tire shops, some big, others small.

Is your service immediate? Let’s say some fellow arrives with a puncture, can you fix it on the spot? What if a tire is badly damaged and he really needs the car?

Niko: If it’s a puncture we fix it immediately. If the damage is bad and the tire needs to be replaced, it depends on whether we have that type in stock. If we don’t, we lend a temporary one until we get the replacement from our suppliers (Michelin, Nokia, Continental, Europe).

How do you choose how much stock to have?
Jari: (smiles) Let me show you, it’s a very advanced system…

Jari proudly produces a greasy and battered little notebook and flips through gritty and profusely scribbled pages and pages of columns of stricken-through numbers that constitute the arcane Radial Oy Database System.

Niko: We don’t keep stock here anyway, because we’ve had some break-ins.

Really? Crooks break in to steal the tires?
Jari: Yeah. They come from Russia, Estonia… And of course locals too.

In the middle of winter, when it gets very cold, where do you work?
Niko: Just outside, it’s just the same.

What do you guys do when you tire of tires?
Niko: I play ice-hockey, and football.

Jari: I drink beer (laughs). I am the assistant for a football team; I put air in the balls, and do basic first-aid for anybody who gets a light wound. And I like to bicycle with my wife.

Niko, what are your plans? Will you continue the family business?
Niko: (reflects for a moment) I think that… as long as my father is here I will also be. But when he retires, I don’t think I can continue alone. I will probably go somewhere else.

Jari, how do you feel about that?
Jari: Not so bad. It’s been so many years…

Do you consider selling the business to someone else?
Jari: We can’t. This shop began in a place which the family used both for living and for the shop, so it has a special permission. If we ever leave, no-one can continue operating the shop, and it will become a normal house again.

Get your tires checked, balanced, or replaced with these awesome guys before that happens. Radial Oy is in Kirkonkyläntie 86, Helsinki.