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

‘Nindanikoobijiganag: We are Star People’ by Mississauga Nishnaabe Lucbanin artist Estrella Whetung. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)
Victoria beadwork exhibit speaks to evolving, enduring nature of Indigenous art

On Beaded Ground features work from West Coast artists and a Cedar Hill Middle School group

A seniors housing complex proposed for Cedar Hill Road in Saanich was supported by council after a public hearing on May 12. (Rendering by Jenson Group Architects)
New 85-unit seniors housing development gets green light from Saanich council

Four-storey rental complex would be located on Cedar Hill Road

Kenny Podmore, here seen at Sidney’s cenotaph in November, says he feels for the veterans after organizers had to cancel an event acknowledging Victory in Europe (VE) Day for the second time in as many years because of COVID-19. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
North Saanich event marking 75th anniversary of VE-Day cancelled

Sidney resident first planned event for May 9, 2020 moved to May 8 before being cancelled

Individuals and businesses are encouraged to bring their unwanted electronics to Tillicum Centre May 14 to be shredded, recycled or donated. (Black Press Media file photo)
Greater Victoria residents can shred, donate electronics safely

Vancouver Island Better Business Bureau hosts event May 14 at Tillicum Centre

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day rolling average in white, to May 12, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. preparing ‘Restart 2.0’ from COVID-19 as June approaches

Daily infections fall below 500 Friday, down to 387 in hospital

On Friday, May 14 at Meadow Gardens Golf Club in Pitt Meadows, Michael Caan joined a very elite club of golfers who have shot under 60 (Instagram)
Crowds at English Bay were blasted with a large beam of light from an RCMP Air-1 helicopter on Friday, May 14. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marc Grandmaison
Police enlist RCMP helicopter to disperse thousands crowded on Vancouver beach

On Friday night, police were witness to ‘several thousand people staying well into the evening’

Sinikka Gay Elliott was reported missing on Salt Spring Island on Wednesday, May 12. (Courtesty Salt Spring RCMP)
Body of UBC professor found on Salt Spring Island, no foul play suspected

Sinikka Elliott taught sociology at the university

The first Black judge named to the BC Supreme Court, Selwyn Romilly, was handcuffed at 9:15 a.m. May 14 while walking along the seawall. (YouTube/Screen grab)
Police apologize after wrongly arresting B.C.’s first Black Supreme Court Justice

At 81 years old, the retired judge was handcuffed in public while out for a walk Friday morning

Queen Elizabeth II and Clive Holland, deputy commonwealth president of the Royal Life Saving Society, top left, virtually present Dr. Steve Beerman, top right, with the King Edward VII Cup for his drowning-prevention work. Tanner Gorille and Sarah Downs were honoured with Russell Medals for their life-saving resuscitation. (Buckingham Palace photo)
Queen presents Vancouver Island doctor with award for global drowning prevention

Dr. Steve Beerman receives Royal Life Saving Society’s King Edward VII Cup at virtual ceremony

Former UFV Cascades wrestling coach Arjan Singh Bhullar is now the ONE heavyweight champion after defeating Brandon Vera via TKO in round two on Saturday in Singapore. (ONE Championship)
Former UFV wrestling coach wins MMA championship

Arjan Singh Bhullar captures ONE heavyweight title, first Indian origin fighter to achieve honour

Astra Zeneca vaccine waits for injection in a Feb. 3, 2021 file photo. A Langley man has become the second B.C. resident to suffer a blood clot following an injection. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
B.C. man required emergency surgery after AstraZeneca vaccination

Shaun Mulldoon suffered ‘massive blood clot’ after jab

Chilliwack’s Kile Brown, performing as drag queen Hailey Adler, dances and lip syncs in front of hundreds of people during the inaugural Chilliwack Pride Barbecue at the Neighbourhood Learning Centre on Aug. 24, 2019. Monday, May 17 is International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of May 16 to 22

International Day Against Homophobia, Talk Like Yoda Day, Sea Monkey Day all coming up this week

Most Read