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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is an independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C.’s 1st vaccine-induced blood clot case detected in Interior Health

Interior Health also recorded 52 new cases of COVID-19

Motorists breaking travel rules can be fined $230 for failing to follow instructions or $575 if the reason for travel violates the essential travel health order, at this Highway 3 check area near Manning Park. Photo RCMP
RCMP begin checking drivers on BC highways

Four check points are set up Thursday May 6 around the province

Similkameen Elementary Secondary School (google maps)
More potential exposures dates added to Keremeos school by Interior Health

The entire school week from April 26 to 30 now had a potential exposure

City Hall
Penticton council votes to shift tax burden to businesses

“The businesses staying afloat are what’s going to keep our community afloat,” said coun. Watt

Penticton Western News editor Monique Tamminga got her Astra Zeneca vaccine on Monday, May 3, 2021 at a Penticton pharmacy. Vaccines and appointments are available at most Penticton pharmacies this week.
More than 22K Penticton residents vaccinated

More than 35,000 people jabbed in South Okanagan so far

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Starting Tuesday, May 11, B.C. adults born in 1981 and earlier will be able to register for a vaccine dose. (Haley Ritchie/Black Press Media)
BC adults 40+ eligible to book COVID-19 vaccinations next week

Starting Tuesday, people born in 1981 and earlier will be able to schedule their inoculation against the virus

Kelowna City Hall. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
New temporary outdoor shelter in Kelowna opens

The new area on Richter Street and Weddell Place replaces the Baillie Avenue site

Parks Canada and Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks dig the washed up Princess M out from sand along the south shore of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Rescue attempt costs man his boat off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Coast Guard response questioned after volunteer responder’s speedboat capsizes in heavy swells

Al Kowalko shows off the province’s first electric school bus, running kids to three elementary and two secondary schools on the West Shore. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
B.C.’s first electric school bus making the rounds in Victoria suburbs

No emissions, no fuel costs and less maintenance will offset the $750K upfront expense

Road sign on Highway 1 west of Hope warns drivers of COVID-19 essential travel road checks on the highways into the B.C. Interior. (Jessica Peters/Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. residents want travel checks at Alberta border, MLA says

Police road checks in place at highways out of Vancouver area

Victoria police say the photo they circulated of an alleged cat thief was actually a woman taking her own cat to the vet. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Photo of suspected cat thief released by Victoria police actually just woman with her pet

Police learned the she didn’t steal Penelope the cat, and was actually taking her cat to the vet

Most Read