Kevin Jensen (L) and son TJ stand in front of a stack of tires inside their Big O Tires shop on Quadra Street .  Don Denton photography

Driving Success In Business

Big O Tires revs to record growth

  • Apr. 23, 2021 9:02 a.m.

– Story by Tess van Straaten Photography by Don Denton

Cars have been Kevin Jensen’s passion for almost half a century. He started working in the auto repair industry when he was a 16-year-old high school student in Edmonton, and a job just a few years later in Vancouver would change the trajectory of his life.

“I got a job at Big O Tires in Kitsilano when I was 20. I saw how successful some of the franchise owners were and I realized it was a good opportunity,” recounts Kevin. “I worked there for 10 years, working my way up to manager, and I saved to buy my own location.”

Kevin opened his own Big O Tires franchise in downtown Victoria 27 years ago, after driving around the city scouting for the best spot.

“When I moved here, I didn’t know Victoria at all,” he says. “I literally drove up and down every street looking for a location, and this was the only location that would have worked. It’s a destination [business] and we were looking for a destination area close to where people lived and worked.”

In just three years, Kevin’s burgeoning business would become the most successful Big O Tires franchise in the entire province. It went from zero business to $1 million in revenue in three years—becoming the first outlet in British Columbia to reach the $1-million milestone.

“They gave us our million-dollar rings,” says Kevin, who is the current vice-president of Big O Tires Canada and a past president. “With hard work and perseverance and a little bit of luck and a great location and great landlords, we ended up being the biggest store in our franchise group and we’ve kept that level up until today.”

For Kevin, who’s vigilant about training and quality workmanship, the biggest challenge with running the business—especially in the last few years—has been finding experienced employees.

“We spend a lot of money just making sure we’re fully staffed. Right now, I’d say half the people who used to be open six days a week in automotive are now only open five days a week because they don’t have staff to keep open. There’s a shortage of over 500 Red Seal mechanics in British Columbia right now.”

This past year, with the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been new challenges to overcome—from too much business to too little. Before the pandemic, Kevin’s team was servicing about 40 cars a day. That all but dried up overnight in the early days of the crisis.

“It was probably the only time that I felt helpless and had no control over the future of my business,” Kevin admits. “COVID-19 was an obstacle you can’t really hurdle. If they shut down the whole country, there’s not a lot you can do if people are staying home and not driving to work. We were lucky they designated auto repair as an essential.”

By last June, business was booming again—and revving to record growth for the second half of the year.

“We had six record months of almost double the volume,” says Kevin. “We’ve been doing 60 or 70 cars a day, which is incredible, working six days a week and 12 hours a day. That was the biggest challenge.”

To better meet the demand, Big O Tires is expanding to a Pandora and Quadra location, which will mean six more hoists and an additional 20 parking spaces. The Johnson Street location across the road, which was being used as a mechanical repair facility, is also being expanded and will be used as a speed lane for fast flat repairs and quick winter tire changeovers.

“That will give us three locations within a block downtown,” Kevin explains. “That gives us 15 hoists and parking for almost 50 cars.”

The original Quadra location is also being totally revamped, from the ground up. Kevin says they’re investing “quite a bit of money to bring all the shops to the next level.” It could be seen as a big risk or as finding an opportunity amid a crisis.

“Sometimes you just have to take an opportunity and when it comes to the availability of locations and getting a good deal on a lease rate, the opportunities are better in hard times versus when everything is successful. So if you have a few dollars to expand, it makes sense,” Kevin says. “People have a tendency to buy stocks when they’re going up, but really you should be buying when they’re going down.”

With more and more people living in the downtown core and so many auto repair shops moving out of it, Kevin is also banking on demand continuing to be high in the area with so few competitors.

“In the last 20 years, there are probably at least 50 per cent fewer [repair shops] and the population is growing. We’ll probably be the last in the downtown core within two or three years.”

With many accolades over the years—including several Black Press “Best in the City” awards—and rave reviews, Kevin says his biggest mistake was not buying the property all those years ago when his landlord offered it to him for $380,000.

At the age of 64, Kevin is now getting everything set up to pass the lug wrench to his son, TJ, and manager Tony Tummillo, who came to work for him after they worked together for a decade in Kitsilano.

“We’re just a big family,” Kevin says. “That’s what makes our business—our employees and customers.”

Excited about what this year will bring as he drives change and embarks on expansions, Kevin says the secret to success is pretty simple.

“You can do anything you want to do—you just have to try hard enough and put the time in. It’s just a matter of focus and hard work.”

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication

Like Boulevard Magazine on Facebook and follow them on Instagram

AutomotiveBusinessLifestyle

Just Posted

A map of Huu-ay-aht-owned forestry cutblock. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Island First Nations restrict access to territory in wake of forestry standoffs

Huu-ay-aht set up checkpoints after heated and dangerous incidents on southwest Vancouver Island

Sean Hart, 34, unexpectedly left the Seven Oaks Tertiary Mental Health Facility in Saanich on Nov. 6, 2020 and has now been missing for six months. (Photo courtesy Penny Hart)
Mom still hopeful for Island man who left care six months ago, hasn’t been seen since

Support from community, police keeps search alive for Sean Hart six months after his disappearance

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the shooting of an Indigenous woman in the Ucluelet First Nation community of Hitacu. (Black Press Media file photo)
Island First Nation wants ‘massive change’ after its 3rd police shooting in less than a year

“We need to get to the root of what is actually happening with the RCMP and our communities”

Oak Bay resident Hugh Thompson died Friday, May 7. (GoFundMe photo)
Oak Bay dad dies mountain biking near Shawnigan Lake

Community rallies around family with online fundraiser

The Regional District of Nanaimo has its sights set on busing to the Cowichan Valley in time for March 2022. (News Bulletin file)
Bus link between Nanaimo and the Cowichan Valley expected by next March

Unallocated transit hours already in Regional District of Nanaimo budget

Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about phase two in B.C.’s COVID-19 immunization plan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
All of B.C. will eventually ease out of COVID-19 restrictions at same time: Henry

People who have received two doses of a vaccine can’t yet return to post-pandemic activities with each other, she says

Winnipeg Jets’ Andrew Copp (9) and Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mike Smith (41) watch an incoming shot during second period NHL action in Winnipeg, Monday, April 26, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
‘Very jealous’: Canadian teams can’t take advantage of NHL’s relaxed COVID-19 rules

League eased some tight COVID-19 health and safety protocols over the weekend for fully vaccinated clubs

Police stopped, then let go this man and his large collection of cans during a stop Monday morning on Resthaven Drive. Police had received a report of a possible theft, but let him go after he had returned the property, which he believed was his to take after being left out in public. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Precarious cartload balancing act of ‘put out’ goods draws raised eyebrows in Sidney

Police determined goods were not left out for anyone to take, property returned

Business founder Jeff Ross stands outside his shop Gold Silver Guy in Qualicum Beach on May 10, 2021. (Mandy Moraes photo)
Qualicum Beach store owner finds shop in shambles after early morning robbery

RCMP investigating after door smashed, showcases shattered and inventory stolen

Victoria Police Department looks to identify a person of interest after a Friday night stabbing. (VicPD handout)
Victoria stabbing leaves man with potentially life-altering injuries

Friday night assault has police looking for help in identifying a suspect

Daniel Foster, last seen in downtown Parksville on Saturday, May 1. (submitted photo)
RCMP seek help locating missing Victoria man, last spotted in Parksville on May 1

Daniel Foster, 43, seen via surveillance camera using an ATM

Nanaimo RCMP are looking for a 57-year-old woman who missed a work appointment and has not been seen since May 3. (Photo submitted)
UPDATE: RCMP say Nanaimo woman who hadn’t been seen in a week is safe and sound

Tracy Ferguson, 57, had been away from the boat where she resides on Stewart Avenue

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a ‘person of interest’ in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
RCMP identify ‘person of interest’ in Kootenay National Park suspicious death

Police are looking for Philip Toner, who was known to a woman found dead near Radium last week

Most Read