Fargo, North Dakota Auto Franchisee Puts his Own Unique Stamp on the System
The Tuffy Tire and Auto Service Center in North Dakota is poised to have a big year and it’s all because the visionary franchisee didn’t just follow the system, he actually improved it.
Kim Kappes opened his Tuffy franchise location in April of 2000. While the franchise gives him all the training and support, he needed to be successful, Kappes has implemented his own customer service process. “I put together a 14-point process that my guys follow,” he said during a recent interview. “They’re our commandments that we follow every day for every customer.” They have proven so successful that he even shares them with other Tuffy franchisees to help them grow their businesses.
But even though he has his own customer service process, Kappes wholeheartedly buys into the Tuffy system. “If you cut me, I pretty much bleed black and yellow because those are our colors,” he said. “I’m a true believer in the system.”
What almost wasn’t
While his five-bay shop is poised to do $1.7 million in sales this year, Kappes almost missed out on being North Dakota’s only Tuffy location. Back in 1999, the company already had a location picked out and had a big sign in the window advertising for a franchisee. “So, I called them,” Kappes recalled
He was initially told that he met all the qualifications, but after a couple of weeks of not hearing anything, he called Tuffy again to check in. That’s when they told him they had picked a different franchisee for Fargo. Initially angry about missing out on the opportunity, he let the Tuffy representative know about his disappointment. “I kind of let him have it,” Kappes related.
A couple of weeks after that, though, he received a phone call saying the first Tuffy franchisee didn’t work out and they’d like to talk with him if he was still interested. “So, my wife and I jumped in a car and drove to Toledo,” he noted.
His background is in sales and marketing, Kappes noted. With a degree in sales and marketing, he previously sold office furniture, then groceries as a food broker and was a supervisor for a chain of convenience stores in Fargo.
Since he was a young man in his 20s, the thought of running his own business always interested him. A lack of capital and opportunity coupled with having a young family put his entrepreneurial aspirations on hold until he had saved enough money to invest in a business and saw that sign in the window.
Coming from a large family without much money, Kappes knew how to work hard, which served him well during the first years of the business. For the first five or six years, he worked essentially every hour the shop was open. Once he became more successful, he was able to hire and retain good people and alleviate some of his workload by hiring a manager to take over some of the work from him.
Kappes noted that anyone looking to open a Tuffy will have a similar experience. “You’re going to be here from seven in the morning until seven at night and then you’re going to do the books and then you’re going to go home and eat and go to bed,” he outlined. “For a lot of years it’s hard work.”
In Toledo, Ohio, he initially received four weeks of intensive training about managing and operating a Tuffy franchise. Kappes recalled that they even showed him how to perform a brake job, although he also noted that it is not necessary to have any mechanical training to run a Tuffy outlet.
In additional Tuffy also provides Kappes with what is essentially on-demand training. The Tuffy District Manager trains my salespeople and the service writers when necessary and if additional training is required for the technicians, that can easily be arranged.
Kappes is on the Tuffy Franchise Advisory Council, a franchisee committee that is made up of Tuffy owners from each district in the country who meet quarterly at the company’s headquarters in Toledo to discuss best practices and what the future holds for the franchise.
“I tend to stay up to date on what’s new and what’s coming,” he noted.
In addition to all the training, Kappes still learns a lot through on the job experience, too.
Every single year he had been in business up until 2014, the shop had gone up in sales. However, in 2014, sales became stagnant and stayed that way in 2015. He was ready to make a move, so he hired an additional service writer and his sales didn’t just start growing again, they went “through the roof.”
Once he had his new service writer on board, he realized the reason sales had stagnated was because he and his original service writer just weren’t keeping up with demand. When he hired the extra service writer, they were then able to meet the full demand. “Volume cures a lot of problems,” he noted. “The last three years have been really good, really good.”
Kappes said he sets his goals to be “almost unattainable,” but has so far reached all of them. When the shop makes its goals, Kappes noted, everyone is fired up about it. With Tuffy’s system in place and his own 14-point customer service process, Kappes will likely keep reaching his goals well into the future.