Jeff King knows cars and how to keep them running. He has developed a successful career in the automotive repair industry, from fixing tires and changing oil to managing a service department and overseeing national sales for a major parts supplier. Today, as the owner and operator of four Meineke Discount Mufflers locations – three in Colorado Springs and a fourth opened earlier this year in Pueblo – he has invested 10 years in building his own business. As a Meineke operator, King is a part of the nation’s largest discount muffler and brake franchise, with more than 900 locations in the continental U.S., and several countries including Mexico, Canada and Puerto Rico. The shops offer 14 automotive maintenance services, which are aimed at extending a vehicle’s life and enhancing its performance.
“Meineke is a one-stop shop for auto maintenance,” said King, 43. “We’re looked at as an expert in many service areas, particularly exhaust and brake repair, but we do a whole lot more. We’re really a full-service outfit, taking care of everything from tires and brakes to factory-service maintenance and front-end repair.”
King’s relationship with Meineke can be traced beyond the shops he owns. Prior to opening his first franchise in 1992, he was the national sales manager for Maremont Corporation in Chicago. That company is the main supplier for Meineke parts and supplies nationwide.
“I made contact with a lot of Meineke owners through my position at Maremont,” said King, who has a BA degree in business administration. The decision to leave behind his executive position at Maremont after five years was made in large part to fulfill long-term financial goals. “I saw how their franchises gave franchisees a real opportunity to build equity growth, so I decided to purchase my own shops.” As father of two young sons, he was also anxious to end long days of business travel. “Staying at Meineke meant that after 25 years I’d walk away with my 401K,” he said. “With the Meineke franchises, I have more opportunity to build equity growth and increase personal income. What it comes down to is, the more you build it, the more it’s worth when you sell it.”
When King met the former Colorado Springs Meineke owner at a sales meeting in Denver in 1992, he seized the opportunity to purchase his stores. The result has been a true success story, based largely on King’s dedication to business organization. “If you’re disorganized, you spend too much time fighting fires,” says the veteran franchisee who is a strong believer in personnel training and offering employees performance incentives plus full benefits.
Noting the difficulty he has had in getting well-trained employees and mechanics in a tight job market, King has developed a number of ways to build staff loyalty. “It’s good business to give your employees a reason to stay with you,” said King. “Fortunately, when I purchased the business in the early 1990s, one of the managers stayed with me and really helped us grow. Now he’s in charge of our new Pueblo store – and has a chance to move up the ladder while building an equity position for himself.”
King has also implemented a full benefits package for all full-time employees, including health and life insurance, 401K and disability programs – a package not always offered to mechanics and automotive service workers. “Most of our guys also take part in extra training programs, including Meineke University where they earn certification for completing each level of competency. Meineke is also now offering 39 courses on-line,” he said, noting that most local community colleges and high schools have eliminated their automotive courses over the years. “Our training is a valuable part of the whole employee package.” To date, out of King’s total 19 employees in all four locations, several have been with him for more than 10 years.
When asked what changes have marked the last ten years with Meineke (the local franchise has operated a total of 19 years), King points to automotive computerization. “Repairs are more expensive today than they were 10 or 20 years ago because the manufacturers are designing cars differently,” he said. “Most newer vehicles have been computerized.” The result has not only forced extensive technician training, but has also increased the need for expanded auto parts inventory. “During my last 10 years in business, I’ve seen inventories increase by four times – parts are very specialized and there’s a wider range of cars to service.” Meineke buys parts directly from manufacturers, adds King, and keeps most items in stock. He points out that Meineke caters to “everybody who has a car,” by providing quality auto repair that is positioned as an affordable alternative to dealerships and independent mechanics.
“Our clients are those people who rely on their cars for everything from getting to work to driving their kids to soccer practice,” King said. “Typically our customers are not rich or poor, they’re middle-class folks who keep their cars for a long time and know the value of routine maintenance.”
Meineke has three competitors in the marketplace, and according to King they are similar franchise shops, such as Midas, independents and dealerships. “If you compare Meineke to the competition, we’re built on individual owners who are on the front lines everyday,” he said. “Also our slogan, ‘You won’t pay a lot, but you’ll get a lot,’ works because the owner of each shop is standing behind the counter as opposed to some mega-franchise whose owner is 500 miles away. Customer service is a lot more hands-on.”
The most popular Meineke services are the maintenance and repair of exhaust, brake and steering, and suspension systems. Other services include oil and filter changes, tire sales and installation, front-end alignment, wheel balancing and tune-ups. A complete list of services and other company information can be found at the meineke.com web-site.
King sees continued growth opportunities in the future and plans to open at least one more store. “Since I got into the business ten years ago, I’ve met or exceeded my goals,” King said. He says that success is due in great part to area soldiers and military families who are great customers. Both military and senior discounts are offered – and Meineke is a member of the Seniors Directory. He also sees Meineke adding additional services and creating new markets for business. “Overall, I think Meineke’s business will continue to grow along with Colorado Springs and Pueblo,” he said. “Auto repairs will continue to be one of the country’s largest industries – from the small one-man shop to the large dealerships. I plan to continue to build my career and my family’s future on that fact.”