Chris Van Winkle spent 34 years as an executive manager for a Fortune 500 automotive supply chain and logistics company before he and his wife, Sharon, acquired Fitz’z Service in 2017.Technician Clif Fitzgibbons (right) and Mike Koeninger repair a Ford Explorer seat with essential airbag parts. Other services offered are pre- and post-scans, electrical diagnostics, modular programming, airbag replacement, ignition repair, and theft recovery.Fitz’z has four service vehicles and can perform most of their services wherever they are called, including mechanical and collision repair shops and dealerships.The Key Factory at Fitz’z was upgraded to handle cutting and programming of high security keys. “We can do so much more than just work on steering columns,” owner Chris Van Winkle says.Service Writer Bryan Rosener was brought on board as the Van Winkle’s first new hire. A second service writer will soon be added.

New Fitz’z Service owners revamp shop branding and emphasize specialty services

Employees remain the heart and soul of longtime steering column specialists established in 1988

St. Louis—Chris Van Winkle, along with his wife, Sharon, were looking for a business investment opportunity back in 2017. Multiple avenues and countless hours of research led them to Fitz’z Service, where they had heard the previous owner was looking to sell.

“We met with the owners and decided that this was exactly what we were looking for. This was an established business with a good reputation, which was very important to us. Things progressed pretty fast, and in November of 2017 the acquisition was completed,” Van Winkle said.

He had spent the majority of 34 years in the corporate world as an executive manager for a Fortune 500 automotive supply chain and logistics company, and also had a family background in the automotive industry. “My customers were major OEMs and my father worked for Ford for 30 years, so the automotive interest has always been there. It was just time to do something different in my career,” he said.

On the first day, the Van Winkles made it clear to their seasoned employees that they were not there to shake the foundation of what had been established by them and the previous owner. They were both eager to learn and to let the guys know that “We are a part of your team now.”

The Van Winkles said all five technicians are the biggest value for them as new owners because of their many years of experience and expertise. “We’ve added a service writer and will be adding another one soon, but it was important to us to keep all of the employees here and to help make the transition go as smoothly as possible,” he said.

Fitz’z has always been known as a leader in steering column and airbag repairs for the St. Louis area. They have expanded their capabilities this past year, especially when it comes to cutting and programming high security keys. We can do so much more than just work on steering columns,” Van Winkle said.

Other services offered are pre- and post-scans, electrical diagnostics, modular programming, airbag replacement, ignition repair, and theft recovery.

“We now offer programming for Toyota, Lexus, Ford, GM, Honda, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Mazda, Hyundai, and KIA. We have all of the OEM capable scan tools for those makes and can turn around completion same day in most cases. We also make sure we are following a strict set of SOP’s and order of operations to ensure that when we program a module, it is done right the first time,” Van Winkle said.

He added that all of their available services are not just in the brick and mortar of the shop but can be performed on-site wherever they are needed.

“We have four service vehicles that can perform most of our services wherever we are called to. Not only can we provide service to everyday customers, but we can also be called to other mechanical shops, collision repair facilities and dealerships.”

Sharon commented, “Just like moving into a new home you want to make changes to reflect your vision.” So she and Chris got busy and put their own signature style on the waiting room, office and kitchen area. “Along with changes to the logo and updates in software and equipment. The service technicians played an important role in helping complete the atmosphere we wanted in the shop itself.”

 Chris stated, “We want to make this a place that our employees enjoy coming to every day. At first they were a little hesitant to all of the changes, but have really grown to appreciate the added amenities that help get them through the day. Aside from keeping them trained and equipped, we wanted to make sure they are happy and enjoy being here.”

Looking toward the future, Van Winkle is researching and networking for ADAS repair with the possibility of adding a dedicated ADAS diagnostic and repair area at the shop.

“I have an area I believe will work for the possibility of bringing in ADAS calibration equipment. It’s a big decision with a huge investment needed so it isn’t something I am rushing into, but it is definitely on the horizon. This technology is not going away and we are going to start seeing it more,” he said. “Our mission is to create a positive experience for our customers. Above all else, we strive to accomplish that with every single person who we have the honor to call “our customer.”

Parts & People

Parts & People is published monthly by Automotive Counseling and Publishing Company, Inc., a Colorado corporation, P.O. Box 18731 Denver, CO 80203, 303-765-4664. President-Lance Buchner. Founded by Lance Buchner and Dave Lucia.