Car care entrepreneurs driven to succeed

Kevin and Valerie Brooks plan to soon open a Big O Tires store in a downtown Grand Junction building undergoing renovations. The store will be the ninth in Western Colorado for the entrepreneurial couple. The photograph below shows the front of a facility that’s expected to serve what the Brooks describe as a large market. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Kevin and Valerie Brooks long coveted a building they could see from their fourth-floor offices in downtown Grand Junction.

The couple believed the location would work well for an addition to the string of Big O Tires stores they own in Western Colorado. When they finally had a chance to lease the building near the intersection of Third Street and Rood Avenue, the Brooks seized the opportunity.

As the Brooks look out their office windows and across a large parking lot now, they monitor the extensive renovations that will lead up to what’s scheduled as the Sept. 9 opening of a Big O Tires store at 215 N. Third St. “The building is going to look brand new when it’s done,” Kevin Brooks says.

The new location not only will only serve what the Brooks describe as a large market downtown, but also add to what over the past 17 years has been a growing operation for the entrepreneurial couple. It’s a business success story based on the one-stop convenience of a full complement of car care services and a commitment to customer service, they say.

“If we do the customer service thing like we’re supposed to do … they’ll come to our stores,” Kevin Brooks says.

The new store will offer the same services available at the other Big O Tires locations in Grand Junction along North Avenue and U.S. Highway 6 & 50. Those services include not only tire repair and replacement, but also brake work, oil changes and radiator flushes.

In fact, the new facility offers more square footage and parking than the other outlets, Brooks says.

The new store will serve the nearly 7,000 people who work downtown, offering them a nearby location at which to take their vehicles for new tires or maintenance, Brooks says. In addition, a lot of businesses with commercial vehicles are located in the downtown area. “It’s an awesome market.”

Brooks fully expects a warm welcome. “I haven’t talked to one person who isn’t excited about our being downtown.”

While a third outlet likely will draw some sales volume from the other two outlets, Brooks says a redistribution will reduce some of the load on what are busy operations and shorten waiting times for customers.

Ultimately, Brooks expects the new outlet to help Big O Tires capture additional market share in the Grand Valley. “The convenience factor is going to make them our customers.”

The downtown outlet will be the ninth Big O Tires store for the Brooks, but the first since the couple opened a store near Vail in 2007. The couple also owns stores in Basalt, Delta, Frisco, Glenwood Springs and Montrose. When the new outlet opens, the Brooks will employ a staff of 135.

The Brooks previously owned seven Big O Tires stores with Larry Thiesen, but bought out their former partner when he retired. Kevin Brooks worked for six years before as controller of the operation.

Prior to that, Brooks worked as a certified public accountant with a firm in Grand Junction and operated his own practice. A graduate of Montrose High School, Brooks attended college in New Mexico.

Brooks says the initial decision to purchase a Big O Tires franchise in 1996 was an easy one because the couple wanted to own a business and Big O Tires sells products nearly everyone needs.

Founded in 1962 by a group of independent tire dealers, Big O Tires has grown into an operation with a total of more than 400 locations in 20 states in the West and Midwest.

Brooks says his group of Big O Tires stores collectively ranks as the biggest purchaser of Big O products in the chain.

While sales dipped in 2009 as the full effects of downturns in the energy sector and overall economy were felt in Western Colorado, sales have held steady since then, he says.

More emphasis on car care services has diversified the operation while offering more convenience to customers, he says. “They can get everything done at one location at one stop.”

In 1996, tires accounted for about

85 percent of sales and automotive services the remaining 15 percent. Brooks now pegs those proportions at 65 percent tire sales and 35 percent automotive services.

The change was more reactive than strategic, he says. “It was really based on what the customer needs.”

Valerie Brooks says the other change she’s noticed is the growing number of women who make purchasing decisions about tires and car care services. “Our customers became more diverse,” she says.

What hasn’t changed over the years has been a commitment to customer service. Employees greet customers at their cars and strive to quickly determine what they need and meet those needs, Kevin Brooks says. “We make sure we do that better than their expectations.”

If customers want to wait while work is completed, they can do so comfortably in waiting areas offering coffee, televisions and Internet access.

Quality customer service also depends on employee training and workplace culture, Brooks says.

The couple operates a training center in Grand Junction to offer instruction to employees from all of the stores. An instructor leads three-day classes at least once a month.

“We have very high expectations for what goes on in our stores,” he says.

And employees — some who’ve worked for Big O Tires longer than the Brooks have owned the stores, meet those expectations — Brooks adds. “Our secret has been the great people who work for us.”

Valerie Brooks attributes business success to yet another factor: a passion for excellence.

Kevin Brooks agrees. “We are passionate about what we do and passionate about being the very best.”