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

James Taylor, a Saanich resident and member of the Curve Lake First Nation, walked all over Greater Victoria on May 5 in honour of Red Dress Day and the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. (Devon Bidal/News staff)
Indigenous man walks Greater Victoria to honour missing and murdered women and girls

James Taylor, of the Curve Lake First Nation, marks Red Dress Day with healing walk, songs

A man who allegedly spat at and yelled racial slurs at an Asian family was arrested for hate-motivated assault Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man arrested for allegedly spitting, yelling anti-Asian racial slurs at a mother and kids

The man was arrested for hate-motivated assault near Quadra Elementary School Tuesday

This sign, visible from Highway 17 and suggesting dissatisfaction with the public health measures responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, disappeared from this location after having stood on a private North Saanich property for several days. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Sign in North Saanich warning of police state gone

The sign stood for several days on a private property and was visible from Highway 17

Victoria police said Wednesday that they continue to look for Belinda Ann Cameron, who was last seen on May 5, 2005. (Photo courtesy of VicPD)
Victoria police still looking for Belinda Cameron who was last seen 16 years ago

Cameron was reported missing on June 4, 2005, and her case is deemed suspicious

Colwood-based writer Esi Edugyan will speak about the deep research she did before writing <em>Washington Black</em>, her third novel. (Black Press Media file photo)
Colwood author Esi Edugyan giving talk May 6 about her research and writing process

Event is part of Royal Road’s Changemaker series celebrating its 25th anniversary

Jose Marchand prepares Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination doses at a mobile clinic for members of First Nations and their partners, in Montreal, Friday, April 30, 2021. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization is coming under fire after contradicting the advice Canadians have been receiving for weeks to take the first vaccine against COVID-19 that they’re offered. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Trudeau says he is glad he got AstraZeneca, vaccines are only way out of pandemic

‘The most important thing is to get vaccinated with the first vaccine offered to you’

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of May 4

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: Do you plan to travel on the Victoria Day long weekend?

It’s the unofficial start to the summer season. A time of barbecues,… Continue reading

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O���Connell photo)
Clash between loggers, activists halts forestry operations over Fairy Creek

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

The courthouse in Nanaimo, B.C. (News Bulletin file)
Island man sentenced in Nanaimo after causing a dog unnecessary pain and suffering

Kiefer Tyson Giroux, 26, of Nanoose Bay, given six-month sentence

Following a one-year pause due to the pandemic, the Snowbirds were back in the skies over the Comox Valley Wednesday (May 5) morning. Photo by Erin Haluschak
Video: Snowbirds hold first training session in Comox Valley in more than 2 years

The team will conduct their training from May 4 to 26 in the area

Solar panels on a parking garage at the University of B.C. will be used to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen, the latter captured to supply a vehicle filling station. (UBC video)
UBC parkade project to use solar energy for hydrogen vehicles

Demonstration project gets $5.6M in low-carbon fuel credits

FILE – A student arrives at school as teachers dressed in red participate in a solidarity march to raise awareness about cases of COVID-19 at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. ‘should be able to’ offer 1st dose of COVID vaccine to kids 12+ by end of June: Henry

Health Canada authorized the vaccine for younger teens this morning

Most Read