So I went to Les Schwab today (if you're not in the northwest/southwest you probably haven't heard of them) they are a chain that specializes in tires/batteries/chains/wheels/suspension etc. There are about 400 stores these days and they offer 'Sudden Service' which basically means if the employees don't sprint out to your car to greet you they can get fired (also - no facial hair allowed and crew-cuts are the preferred hair style for the service techs - seriously). From what I understand, they pay pretty well and offer decent benefits and most of their stores are managed by people that have worked there way up. Any tire you buy at Les Schwab has a free flat-repair for life guarantee and they used to (not sure if they still do this or not) offer free lifetime balancing. The service and the warranty make the higher than other places cost not-so-bad especially if you live close to one of their stores.
They always try to push 'their' brand of tires which are Wild Country/Open Country/Wild Cat labeled. I honestly don't know if a major manufacturer makes the tires and labels them differently or if those brands are nationwide and offered at other stores than Les Schwab. I had 30x9.5r15 Wild Country's years ago and they were actually really good tires. Les Schwab also was one of the first to really push tire siping really hard and I think the evidence shows that siping is a smart thing to do to a tire so I have respect for the company, although I'm fairly sure I remember (this isn't mentioned on his Wikipedia article) that he was once on 60 Minutes for his ranch in Texas being the biggest tire dump in the US and that he was having problems with the EPA because of it...
So I decide to go down and price some 275/70r16's for my PreRunner and they print me out two quotes because they only have two models in stock of that size. The first is their 'average' quality all-terrain and the total is $846.00 for four including mounting/siping/balancing/tax. The other model in stock had a very street tread (more for a SUV than a p/u) which didn't interest me, and the $1,072 price tag for four made the 'no' decision very easy.
Now - These are not horrible prices but I can get Michelin LTX M/S's from DiscountTireDirect for $153 each shipped. So I ask the guy 'How much for mounting/siping/balancing if I bring in my own tires?' He starts plugging numbers into the computer and the quote prints out -
$254.46 TO MOUNT/SIPE/BALANCE FOUR TIRES!!!!
I actually started laughing and said 'No - Seriously, how much'? He just sat and stared at me like I was being obnoxious... I folded the quotes in half and handed them to him, said thanks for your time and walked out. I've seen them mount/sipe/balance a set of four tires and the whole process takes less than an hour. Think about it - they are asking me to pay $250 for an hour of labor!
In the '80's when I worked in a garage, we charged $4 to balance a tire. Ah, the good old days.