Wausau Pilot & Review
Editor’s note: Business of the Week is a sponsored feature that shares the stories of locally-owned and operated businesses in the Wausau area, highlighting the products and services they offer and the ways they contribute to the metro area’s unique flavor. Learn how to feature your business by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week’s featured business has been a staple in the Wausau auto industry for decades. Olson Tire & Auto, 601 Forest St., is not only a household name, the business is a true family affair. President and owner Kent Olson is joined by his wife, Kim Olson, who acts as business manager, while their two sons – Evan and Aaron Olson – are the sales and service managers who keep the operation running smoothly. Traci Seeger, body and paint operations manager, and general manager Dylan Thompson round out the team for Olson Tire & Auto, which has been up and running since 1987. Kent takes pride in his “happy car care philosophy,” ensuring that each customer is cared for and treated with the utmost respect. It is that philosophy that has attracted national recognition for the Olson team – and at the same time earns customers’ trust, keeping them coming back, year after year. The Olson team plays an integral role in the Wausau area, often offering their generous support and assistance to nonprofit organizations and other community efforts, helping make Wausau the vibrant community it is. In 2019, Kent expanded the business, adding auto body and paint services – all with the same commitment to excellence that has kept his operation thriving for more than 30 years. Here is what Kent had to say about his business, his guiding principles and his plans for the future.
Q: When was your business established, and what prompted you to start?
A: We started Olson Tire & Auto in 1987. I was a young transplant who recently moved here from the cities with a desire to create my own vision of how automotive and light truck vehicle maintenance and repairs should be delivered to guests. I believe in honesty – we don’t operate on commission, but pride ourselves in being compassionate and caring. And we’re still able to make a decent living doing it. We recently, in the fall of 2019, opened Olson Auto Body & Paint along those same ideals.
Q: How did you choose the name of your business? What are you trying to convey?
We chose our name to reflect first the personal pride of a family-owned business, then we developed our philosophy of being “the Happy Car Place” which is the business motto we live and act by. You’re happy because you’re getting the most out of your investment. A well-maintained vehicle costs less to own and operate. It uses less fuel. It experiences fewer costly breakdowns. Its value is greater when you decide to sell or trade it in. And if repairs are needed, they likely will cost less than they would for a vehicle that is poorly maintained. Your vehicle is happy because it’s getting all the loving care it wants and needs. Today’s vehicle truly is a mechanical marvel. So much so, it’s easy to take its amazing performance for granted. But just like a highly skilled athlete with good muscle tone and fitness, it requires a diet of ongoing maintenance to keep it performing at its best. Its manufacturer is happy because we’re providing all that he recommends. In some cases, based on our experience dealing with vehicles in our climate, we may suggest maintenance services that exceed manufacturer recommendations. But we never will promote services that are not in the best interests of you and your vehicle. We’re happy because we’re doing what we really like to do. We’re happy to have received the Governor’s Exemplary Employer Award for Excellence and are proud, too, to be regarded by our peers and our good customers as an outstanding service facility. But what sets us apart is a passion for what’s going on under the hood of your car. We take great pride in doing our job well. Our greatest reward is knowing that when you leave our shop, you drive away in a happy car.
Q: Tell us more. What products or services do you offer?
We are a full service automotive and truck repair facility that offers services for vehicles of all makes and models, offering just about every kind or type of service and we have a full deep cleaning or detail facility too. Now that we have added an additional facility that has a state-of-the-art paint and body refinishing system we literally do it all.
Q: What makes your business unique? What sets you apart?
A: Besides our philosophy, I think three things stand out. We truly do not support any commission sales – either at the sales end or with the technician side. We are one of the few shops that operates this way. We also are very proud to be active in many local organizations – not just in direct support financially, but we are also engaged in their vision and leadership, in some cases. We are a family-owned business. And our team has been both locally, regionally, and even nationally recognized for our leadership in the communities we serve. (Kent was recognized by Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company as the inaugural “most committed dealer in his community” with the “Put More Good on the Road” award, while the national magazine Tire Business honored him as the “Humanitarian of the Year.”)
Q: What do you love most about your job? What drew you to this work?
A: We ALL love what we do. We’re proud of the investment we have made in our knowledge, our facilities and our business, with a strong willingness to serve. We love to see our guests in the community and hear we did a great job or helped someone they referred. We are not driven to drive the fanciest cars, own the biggest houses, or fly about the world. We love what we do, and we like to help everyone be a bit happier.
Q: What are you most proud of accomplishing?
A: Supporting our staff and their families all these years, growing our ability to support our community and the wonderful people and causes within it, and being a part of a legacy that we hope rewards committed and passionate businesses in a local community.
Q: How have you changed and evolved over time? What’s different now from when you first started?
A: What’s different is the radical change in technology. Today’s vehicles are much more sophisticated than they were when I was a young mechanic. We have a myriad of special tooling, technicians needing to constantly attend training, and so many more expensive and delicate parts and services to repair and address. Our evolution has been to remain committed to leading by example. Training our staff to be knowledgeable, both in the work bays and at the front counter. Learning the intricacies of explaining those needed repairs to our guests – it’s all a daily challenge.
Q: What other challenges have you had to overcome? Basically, if you had it to do all over again, would you do anything differently?
A: Workforce shortage has been a predominant challenge. It is not difficult to find, train and grow a technician, but at the same time, that requires the ability to charge for the overhead needed to develop that training. And to pay technicians so that we will have a future in our industry. That means re-educating the consumer – all the while now facing the internet where “everything” can be fixed for less, even if they might be wrong, or if they have no concept of what Wisconsin’s rust belt does to the service process.
A: What are your hopes and dreams for the future? Where do you see your business in five years? 10?
A: My hopes and dreams are for my sons to grow into the business leadership and management. I have been doing this for over 40 years now, with 34 here as principal and owner. I think in five to 10 years I would hope to see our body shop business as vibrant and fully developed as our tire and service business, and hopefully our community is still thriving and growing. Perhaps we could expand to additional locations. But hopefully, I’ll be golfing, fishing, or just plain relaxing a bit by then!
Connect with Olson Tire
Olson Tire & Auto, 601 Forest St., Wausau – 715-845-8473
Olson Body & Paint, 112 S. 7th St., Wausau – 715-845-2639