Thirty years in the tire business has not only taught Kevin Bickford the inner workings of a shop, it also helped him learn what type of boss he’d like to be and the type of shop he’d like to create — one with values of honesty, reliability, integrity, teamwork and professionalism.
And about five years ago, he got his shot. He and his wife, Sarah, purchased Fox River Tire & Auto, a small-town corner auto shop that has been in the St. Charles, Illinois, area for over 50 years. Kevin’s experience in management roles, namely running the biggest Firestone store in the country and helping others surpass sales records, helped him understand the garage side and front desk operations of a shop. Sarah, who has experience in marketing, accounting and HR from her nonprofit work, was able to develop the business’ strategy.
Leveraging the shop’s good name, the couple has developed Fox River to be in tune with Kevin’s vision — so much so that their shop was named a 2019 Mr. Tire/Big 3 Tire Top Shop Award finalist from K&M Tire.
But taking over the shop from its previous owner didn’t come without its challenges. When they acquired the shop, the Bickfords requested employees sign a handbook. They revamped the shop’s culture and customer promises. They also upgraded the shop’s look, rebranding it from its blue façade and dated décor. Some employees weren’t on board.
The Bickfords soon realized that part of creating a shop culture they were proud of meant finding a team that could back their vision.
“We’ve learned that hiring the right people is one of the most important things you do,” Sarah says. “We have a small, tight-knit group of people who enjoy the work that they do. In the industry, because there is a shortage of good people, the tendency is to get someone in quick, but we don’t panic. For us, it’s about getting the right hire. One person can really have a huge impact on the culture of your shop.”
When looking for new people, especially techs, to join their team, Kevin has high standards. You must know multiple makes and models and, most importantly, be dedicated to repairing a customer’s vehicle right the first time. You also have to put in the work once you have the job. At Fox River, each tech has to have a minimum of 40 hours per year of ongoing training and has to keep up with their ASE recertifications.
Kevin says one thing that’s different about Fox River’s technicians is that they work as a team.
“If they want a second opinion [about a repair], they don’t hesitate to ask. There’s a strength in that,” Kevin says.
Another strength of Fox River is its technology-based customer service approach. A few years ago, the Bickfords implemented a shop management tool and digital inspection software that allows them to communicate with customers through text and email. Each technician also works with an iPad in the bay and snaps photos of the areas that need repair. They then send the photos to one of the shop’s managers, who texts or emails them to the customer with an explanation of the work that needs to be done.
“In today’s digital age, it makes things so much easier to communicate with the customer,” Kevin says.
From providing a holistic approach to customer service to donating vehicles to those in need in their community, Kevin says his shop’s values shine in the work that each of its employees does.
“We will always stand behind the work that we do,” Kevin says. “One of the big things when I first got into the industry was the fact that you want to treat your customers as if they were your mom. Think of the way you want your mother to be treated. That’s how I look at it when someone comes in. I think of them as a family member and treat them the way I’d want my family to be treated.”
Check out the rest of the May digital edition of Tire Review here.