Kirkwood shop partners with NAPA program and plans expansion into diesel business
Kirkwood, Mo.—It’s been nearly 40 years since Brad Thiele, owner of Kirkwood Auto & Truck, got his start in the automotive repair industry, and in that time, he said he has seen vast changes in the repair industry, but never before has he experienced such an ebb and flow in the overall business traffic.
“I have never seen the industry this way,” said Thiele, who has owned Kirkwood Auto & Truck since 2001. “It is really up and down, which can make it a challenge, but I always say, ‘It’s easier to stomach the good times, but prepare yourself for the bad, because it’s hard.’”
In response to the economic climate and changes in the repair industry, he said he has made changes to his staffing and business partnerships and is in the process of enhancing some of his service offerings.
One major change, Thiele said, has been the consolidation from four employees to two, along with a sub-contractor who works part time.
“We are getting much more work done now as compared to before,” he said, “and it has relieved a lot of headaches that can come with managing a larger crew.”
Thiele said he has plans to add another technician in the near future, but he is looking for one with a specialization in diesel repair.
“My next step in this business is adding a diesel technician to service an increasing diesel market and fleet customers,” he said. “I have been turning away a lot of diesel work, but I am at a point now where I am ready to make that one of my niche services.”
Thiele added that diesel work meshes nicely with his existing fleet customers, and is a major selling point for potential ones as well.
“My fleet customers are very important because they are running a business and using their vehicles for transportation of a product or service, so they really appreciate fast turnaround,” said Thiele, adding that he comes in on Saturdays and Sundays to take care of his fleet customers, which he does by appointment for traditional customers.
To accommodate the medium-duty fleet vehicles, Thiele said he has a Mohawk 20,000-pound lift, and he plans on increasing the height of one of his bays to 12 feet in order to service larger vehicles.
Most recently, Thiele invested in a new Challenger lift through NAPA, a purchase made easier thanks to assistance through a leasing option.
“As long as I continue to purchases a specific amount of parts from NAPA, they will pay off the lease for me,” he said. “I didn’t have that option with any other providers, so I had to take advantage of the opportunity.”
Thiele added that he is also partnering with NAPA to become a NAPA AutoCare Center this spring.
“NAPA has a great national warranty program, national advertising, and program benefits, which is great support for us,” Thiele said. “Labor claims, for example, have never been easy, and 95 percent of the time they do not exist, so the support that NAPA is providing on that end really helps.”
Locally, Thiele said he also works with S & S Automotive, Al’s Auto Parts, Eagle, and 1-800 Radiator for A/C and radiator parts.
In the shop, Thiele said he and his technicians are keeping comfortable, thanks to central air conditioning and a central furnace for heat, with a gas back up.
“Being in this business as long as I have, and working in these conditions, I decided two years ago to invest in central air conditioning and a Clean Burn waste oil furnace,” he said.
For improved insulation, Thiele just added electrical garage doors through Wright Door Company in St. Louis. “They were installed in a day, and they came with a lifetime guarantee,” said Thiele, adding that he and his technicians are equipped with garage door openers so they can quickly open and close the doors.”
As for tools and equipment, Thiele said he has made many investments, from diagnostic scan tools to BG maintenance machines, but two of the most beneficial investments have been online data support through iATN and Identifix communities.
“These are two great tools that provide diagnostics you need to have to fix cars correctly,” he said. “Technicians have found the issues, repaired the vehicle, and documented the whole process, which allows us to fix the car correctly, and save countless hours — a savings that we can pass on to the customer.”
And the customer, Thiele said, is what being in business is all about.
“I know it’s not fun to pay to have your car fixed like going out to dinner or catching a movie. I hear it’s like going to the dentist, but I enjoy the business, and I have a lot of customers that trust me with their car, so much so, that they just toss me the keys and don’t even ask the price. It makes me proud of what I do.”