Our guest today fills a very non traditional role as a woman in her family. She is the first in a three generation business that have been involved in a local business here in Regina. I’m gonna let her tell you about the business and her involvement. But I’d like to start off by welcoming Jennifer Fox from auto electric to our show this morning. Good morning, and thank you for being here.
Good morning, Barb, thank you so much for having me. It’s such a pleasure to finally put a name and a face together.
Yes, it’s been great.
We’ve been doing lots of online communication, but this is perfect.
Exactly. Yeah. You know, there’s still something to be said for like talking to someone. Right?
Well, there is. And I think we miss out on so much. Without that the expressions that you can see, and just the closeness that even just the visual ads, when you’re in an online format is so much more than just that text format. Exactly.
Yes. You know, I have a girlfriend. This is a total aside before we get started, but I have a girlfriend who always swears like she is not a hugger. And now that COVID has dragged on for so long. She’s like, I’m just warning you like I am hugging when this is done.
Exactly. Yeah, we’re seeing these other sides of our personalities coming through due to the length of things now.
Exactly. That’s so true. Anyway, I kind of hijacked our kickoff here this morning. So that’s a little bit about yourself and your involvement with the business.
For sure. So as you said, my name is Jennifer Fox, and I am the corporate development and marketing manager for auto electric service, mainline fleet service. So we are a Saskatchewan owned and operated business.
We’ve been in business since 1943. So we’ve got some long history, they’re all within Saskatchewan, we have an ownership group have eight shareholders. And we have five locations, we have stores, to actually in which I don’t want under the auto electric service name and one under the mainline fleet service name. And then we also have stores in Estevan, Weyburn and Yorkton.
And you’re we’re not a family business, which makes us kind of unique, but we are a locally owned and operate your business. And even though we’re not truly a family business, we have a couple families that have kind of a few generations of ownership, or siblings that are involved with things like that.
But we are an independently operated business. So a little bit of my history, I guess, in our history as a business. So my grandfather, my mom’s dad was involved in the business. And basically, he started has one of those stories where he started sweeping the floors. And that was where he came into the business. And that’s where he started. And he literally worked his way up to President and CEO of the business.
So he kind of went right from the bottom rate to the top. And we have a lot of those stories within our business, a lot of people who have spent their careers with us, which is a really, I think, interesting story and shows some of the longevity that we have.
But yeah, so just actually, when I was a toddler, my dad became involved in the business, he had gone to university, and then actually worked for SAS, direct West at the time, and then an affiliated organization with our business and then eventually came into the business. And he worked his way up, starting in a sales kind of management role and worked his way up. And he is now our current president and general manager. So I always say it’s interesting, because I have two very different relationships with my dad, at home, he his dad and in the weekends and at the lake in the summer. But at work, he is very much Bob and we very much function like that. So it’s kind of a different dynamic.
Well, and that does bring an interesting dynamic into play. Because when president bob wants something done, but we can Bob knows that you need to balance kids activities or family. Like there’s a real dynamic there that must go on then.
There isn’t I think it’s a dynamic that we both we’ve learned to figure out between the two of us. But it’s, you know, we have we do and we have very distinct relationships and not that business doesn’t get talked about on the weekends and, and things like that, but we how we interact even about those issues is very different at home than it would be at work. So.
Absolutely. And you know, just even as you’re talking, it’s making me think about our business because we are family owned as well. And it’s my husband and I in the business. there’s times where we’re talking about work at, you know, seven o’clock in the morning on the couch while we’re having coffee. And and we have two very different personalities. So my husband was much more routine and structured. We’re like, think of something at 10 o’clock at night. I’m going to talk about it. Just this morning, one of those conversations started at seven o’clock. And my husband was sort of rolling his eyes at me and I said, Well, what like I’m thinking of it now. So I have to tell you, he’s just like, I know Let me get to work first.
Exactly. Let me just at least get half of this cup of coffee in me. And I, I find as I get older, I become a real morning person. And so you know, I’ll get up at six, and I’ll have my coffee and the kids aren’t up and the dogs still sleeping. And it’s like, Ha, peace and quiet. Right? I know. Yeah, you get thinking and for sure, exactly. So do you find that you have, you know, sort of those times as well, like you and dad will talk business? And you know, maybe your mom has said, You’re not talking business at the Sunday dinner table? Like, do you have those kinds of family rules?
We do it a lot of ways. You know, there’s definitely topics that are on the table for family dinner and topics that are off the table for family dinner, and even the depth of those topics of from a work perspective and things like that follows it to that. And I think it’s funny, just because of different relationships, too. I think often, I’ll say something to my mom, too. And she’ll be like, well, what are you talking about? I said, Oh, you know, dad didn’t tell you? And she’s like, No, I have it’s the first she’s heard of it. So it’s like, okay, so it’s it’s navigating all those relationships is really interesting.
Exactly. Yep. No, you also have a brother, but he’s not involved in the business. So, you know, tell me a little bit about the evolution how how you came to fill this non traditional role. And, you know, what was the family and the rest of the ownerships response?
For sure. So I think, um, because it was never something that was assumed it was kind of a different path for both of us, my brother and I both went to university, he’s actually very involved in the banking and investment side of things, has a great career over there. And I had actually originally gone to kind of the community based organizations CBOs, and eventually got into kind of health and dental benefits and those hip things in a management role in that kind of arena.
So it was never really a given. So it was never something that really either one of us had thought about, it was kind of always there. You know, we grew up playing tag in the warehouse on Saturdays while dad was working when we stopped by and things like that. But it was never really where we thought our careers would go. But I had lived in Saskatoon and I had had my daughter, who is eight now and moved back to Regina, that whole idea of it’s fun to move away when you’re finishing up University. But once you have kids, it’s a different story.
So my, we moved back and to be close to family and have that support system around. And it originally started as just a kind of consulting contract thing. And I of course, knew some of the other managers in the business. And it wasn’t even my dad who really wanted it or pushed for it, I would say. But I had a skill set that they were needing. And so we kind of said, Okay, we’ll give this a try as a contract kind of thing. And from there, it just progressed and things changed. And I went on staff full time, and we are where we are today.
So it was kind of a different evolution. But I think once I was there, I really although I’d never seen myself ending up there, I really felt at home. And I think I really felt like this was an industry that I had a lot of perspective it because I had seen it happen in the evolution over a lot of years. But I also brought a different insight and a different background from the outside world that we maybe didn’t have at the time.
Well, and having that outside experience is so important for a local business, because you need to be able to look at any type of business problem in a very fulsome perspective. So bringing that to the table, I expect was probably a pretty valuable skill set for you.
I think it was and I think one of our greatest strengths is that, you know, a lot of the ownership group we have in a lot of the management group we have right now are people who have spent most of their careers within the organization, they started, you know, picking parts and working in the warehouse and worked their way up into the roles they have, which is a wonderful evolution and gives you a whole different type of insight. But it also exactly at times, we can miss that balance that comes from not having been there for the last 25 years. And so we just had a discussion the other day about some new initiatives that we’re looking at it. That was one of the comments that came up, right, like, you know, this is why we need some different perspective. Because some of the insight I had was maybe things that we’d always done it a certain way, and maybe it was time to do things a little bit differently.
Mm hmm. Exactly. Tell me a little bit about the evolution of the business because you’re not just auto repair, which I think is what you’re most well known for. So tell us a little bit of history.
Exactly. We have a really complex history actually. As I said, we began in 1943 right here in Regina, and we eventually expanded out into what we bought our rtwo stores in Regina then Estevan, Weyburn and Yorkton, but the vast majority of our business is actually on the wholesale side.
So the big part of our business is actually wholesaling, automotive aftermarket parts. Everything you could need from a ball joint to a zip tie to oils and lubricants to independent service repair facilities.
So most of our customers are either people who own their own repair facilities who have their own shops who they might be farmers who have information, and are getting to that size now where they’ve got the background that they’re running their own shops, we have a lot of industrial accounts.
And but most of our business is that independent service repair facility. We also have a network of affiliated jobber stores. So we currently have eight part stores that are throughout Saskatchewan go and read up to Kindersley, and Tisdale, and coming all the way down south here. And those are stores that all sell the types of parts that we sell. But they’re just not big enough to be kind of in the market buying direct from these vendors. So they’re buying through us. And we’re wholesaling those parts to them.
And did you call them a jabber store? What was the Java store? So yeah, Java parts stirs. So the products that they purchase through you, are they still branded with the original manufacturer? Or are they co branded with your brand as well?
No, they are branded with the immediate oringinal manufacturer, with the exception of a brand that we have developed in partnership with a buying group that we’re part of. So we’re part of two actually kind of North America wide buying groups.
One of those is the aftermarket Auto Parts Alliance, which is under the name of Autovalue. So that’s a name that people tend to hear a little bit more and see a little bit more. And so that is an association of all independent businesses, who have basically come together to combine our buying power throughout North America and negotiate with vendors and suppliers.
But we’re at the size now that we have lines that we have developed and work with vendors and manufacturers to develop specifically for us. And we’re branded under some of our own names. So whether it’s perfect stop, or whether it is MacPherson we have products that are made just for our group exclusive to our group. And so then our affiliates have access to those as well.
So I find all of that very fascinating. So as a local business, you’re multifaceted, just trying to keep track there. I think I counted kind of four or five different business lines. Did I miss some? Is there more than that?
Yeah, well, because we also have we have a whole division that’s involved in the paint and body shop. So
I’m not there yet.
Nobody knows what we do. And I think sometimes that’s our struggle with marketing. People see our building, and they might know us for one thing, but they don’t realize what all we do. So when you look at Yeah, the repair side, we have two of our own service repair facilities. So we do some of our own repairing ourselves, we’ve got our wholesale side, we have the egg, the industrial, the painted Body Shop division, so we’re kind of going in all different directions for sure.
So okay, paint a picture for us of either an ownership group meeting or a management team meeting. I mean, you guys have a huge agenda to work through. Do you tackle it kind of business line by business line? Or do you really just eat this elephant all at one time?
I think it depends on what the issue is. I think with industrial being kind of our newest area of business, we try and keep that as its kind of own separate game. But often it’s the exact same people who are involved in other things. So it when that happens, it transfers so quickly and so easily in one conversation leads to another. So try to keep it all straight can be a bit of a challenge.
And the benefit is we can definitely learn from mistakes we’ve made, but also successes we’ve had in other areas of business, when we launch new lines, when we start new things. You know, we’re looking at a lot of volume, too. That’s what other people don’t necessarily realize, you know, when you talk about car parts, and you talk about industrial, we’re not just talking about a store that sells you know, 25 or 30 different things. We have 600 vendors that we buy directly from with over 800 different lines. So and that’s just full lines, then once you start to look in with each line, the magnitude of the information can be kind of overwhelming.
Exactly. And if you’re one of those people who can remember just even all of that. It’s like Whoa, it’s whether you like it or not numbers becomes a lot of your day. No kidding. Isn’t that the truth? So you know, one of the things that I’ve always wondered about, like locally owned businesses. So you’ve got eight owners right now, how did they eat? Have you sit down and decide, okay, for right now, you said your dad’s name is Bob, right? Yes. So how did you decide Bob’s gonna be the president for right now? And if Bob doesn’t end up cutting it No offense, dad, then how do you decide that someone else becomes president? What does that look like?
So we have a whole structure we have because we’ve grown and how we’ve grown and the size that our business is now. Now we kind of like to say that, you know, we started off as a small business that became a small medium business that now is juggling that interesting world of small enough to be small but big enough to be big, and the challenges that come with that.
So we have a lot of actual policy and structure in place. We have a board of directors that is made up of our ownership group in different roles. We have classes of shareholders, we have, you know, actual scheduled board meetings. That function from a board oversight perspective, and those type of things, and then percentages of shares, ownership, those things all that become weighted into those types of decisions as well.
So that’s kind of how we work on a technical side. But on a management side, on a day to day operation side. The nice thing about our ownership group as it stands, actually, is that we have an owner who is responsible for Estevan and Weyburn stores, we have one that’s responsible for our mainline fleet division, one that’s responsible for our yorkton store, one that’s responsible for our Regina store. And then we have our corporate sales manager, myself, and then our controller. And then Bob, who’s General Manager and President, you know, so we each kind of have areas of the business that we oversee, that we’re responsible for that we have accountabilities within. So that helps it keep it a little bit clearer as well.
Yeah, it would, is there just the one person then who’s not in Regina, he’s responsible, or she’s responsible for Estevan and weyburn?
So we also have one who’s responsible for yorkton. So yeah, those two are outside of Regina, and then everybody else is located in Regina.
And so with the exception of COVID, how often do you have those face to face meetings?
Well, you know, and that’s one of the things that you look at the good and the bad of COVID is before COVID, we probably weren’t meeting as often as we should, with those branches. We definitely, you know, multiple times throughout the year would have those, but they were more on an as needed basis. But we started back in March of last year, it’s actually we’ve been doing this for a year now. We started with kind of a weekly senior management meeting that basically took the ownership group and the key stakeholders and had a weekly, you know, zoom call, we got everybody hooked up on zoom. Some of them had never seen zoom before, and we got everybody hooked up. And we now have that weekly touch base, which has been fabulous for our business, the communication, the insight that that has brought has been fantastic.
Now do you find the flip side of that is that you can’t do that walkabout management anymore. So you can’t walk around and talk to your folks. Are you finding that more difficult?
It is more difficult and especially because as we’ve implemented policies and things like that, we have our head office in Regina, which is attached to our main warehouse at our retail facility at our service facility there. But because of trying to keep up COVID policies in place, we’ve tried to kind of divide people into groups as well. So people that you know, pre COVID I would have spent hours with over the course of a week and seeing day to day and that kind of thing are now very much not kind of as involved. Sorry, I’ve got a brand new kitten who’s going.
Oh, that’s what it is. I wasn’t sure if it was a cat or a child and I was just turning go with it.
We adopted a rescue kitten on Monday, and she’s usually really quiet.
But she’s saying like, hey, pay attention to me like what’s going on? She hasn’t learned to jump up in the zoom meeting and walk across the keyboard.
You know, she’s only 706 grams, so she doesn’t have the weight yet to get up on.
Yeah, she’s like fits in the palm of your hands.
Oh, wow. So was this a litter that the Humane Society found.
It was a litter that a SOS pre rescue have come across and you need some help? So yeah, we actually my daughter and I a week ago, Monday, made the drive up and picked her up. We had a two and a half hour drive up north to pick them up. And we brought her and two other cats back with us and dropped them off at their houses.
Wow. Do you want to lean over and grab her?
Did she she is okay. She’s actually laying in the sun trying to get our other cat to play with her. So yeah, she’s perfectly fine.
If she’s trying to play then there’s nothing wrong with them, right?
There’s something wrong but no, I can see you’re like,
Oh, they have personalities. We have a good I guess technically he’s a senior. And so we have this senior dog. Well, oh my goodness. He’s got the run of the house. He gets babied. He gets tucked into the couch, he gets to sleep on the bed. He’ll crawl under the covers, you know, during the night every once in a while. I’m like, you know, a dog’s life is a pretty darn good thing. So
That’s nice. Especially these guys who have hit the jackpot. Right? They’re living better than the rest of us.
I know. Exactly. Exactly. Anyway, we digress. Yeah. So sorry. So we were talking about the touch points and how you lose that, that face to face. Right? How were you? How trying to compensate for right now? For sure
We’ve done you know, it’s never the same. But we’ve done a lot more communication, in written form to our staff, things that maybe would have been just quick verbal team huddle is in meetings like that. We’re doing a lot more written communication. We started an actual internal newsletter.
So we have a monthly newsletter that goes out that not only touches on kind of some of the policy, it’s in the information stuff, but we’re trying to make it really personal to so people don’t lose touch with who they still have as colleagues who is working in another building that they still would normally have interaction with and see.
So things like birthdays, things like special events, those type of things. We’re trying to cover those off in there. And then we do have, we’ve divided into groups, right. So we have, you know, kind of areas of accountabilities, where managers are still in touch with their staff on a daily basis, checking in with them, making sure that they’re okay making sure that they know what’s going on, on both a professional and a personal level, because I think that’s been a lot of COVID, too, is we’ve had to learn that there’s a lot more to life, there’s a lot more to people’s lives, and we don’t necessarily always know those stories. So it’s been a really eye opening experience to just who our people are and where they may or may not need support.
That’s right. One of the things that I find interesting about COVID is, you know, for some jobs, you can entirely exist online, do your job, communicate with a team, but if you’re fixing a vehicle or wrapping up parts to ship, you can’t do that through a computer, you need a person there. So were you guys shut down for a period of time last March, when COVID hit?
No, we have been shut down all we were fortunate under the kind of Emergency Services Act, we fall into an essential business because of our ability to keep transportation on the road to keep vehicles whether it’s an ambulance or a police car, we do work with everybody from the RCMP to, you know, the ambulances to Canada Post to FedEx, things like that.
So because we have those areas of business, we were deemed an essential service. So we’ve gone all the way through, we very early on, tried to figure out how to adapt, how do you kind of pivot our business to keep our staff safe, number one, to keep our customers safe. So whether it was barriers in our stores and additional peepee and things like that. But we have remained open, our showrooms have remained open, our warehouses have remained open our service repair facilities for me to open all the way through. So we’ve kind of just adjusted on the fly and made things work from there.
You know, one of the things that I found really interesting about essential services was, for example, if you had grocery you were deemed essential, okay, I get that. But the big chain grocery stores also sell clothes. And so they were still profiting from clothing and shoes were a local business this time last year, had to be closed and couldn’t sell the clothes or the shoes. Exactly. Right. And I I really struggled with that, as you know, that’s all we do is support local. And so I watched that, and I, I honestly, I had to stop myself more than a few times from getting on the soapbox and just let her rip, because you know, the chains are going to come and go. And yes, they absolutely keep people employed. But the local business, those are the fabric in our community. That’s what keeps everything connected. So I really had a struggle with that.
I understand that completely. And I think I’ve struggled with a lot of that, too. And you know, for us, we were lucky because our customers in the repair side, they were able to remain open. So you know, we weren’t kind of juggling that, in terms of where does that look, because they are in the same type of business as we are. But I think at the end of the day, when you don’t have that support for the independence had the big commercials been able to stay open in our industry and the little mom and pops happened, the inequality that that creates off the bat is really hard to struggle with.
Yes, exactly. And that’s, that’s where I really struggle with it. Jen, we are almost at a time, I want to ask you one final question. And then I’m gonna, you know, then give us all the contact details. But when you look at the future, and I know this is a big question for a short time period, what does it look like, especially for women in these non traditional roles? What are you seeing from that, from your local business perspective?
For sure, I think we’re seeing a lot more opportunity than we ever have. And I think we’re seeing a lot more of the resources available to make those things happen. I’m a single mom, I’ve got an eight year old daughter and you know, in a very non traditional role in a very non traditional industry.
But the one thing that I’ve been able to do as part of that is connect with other women, younger women, older women who are navigating these same things, and the community that that creates and the strength that that creates in the lessons learned that that creates, I think, only makes it easier for future generations to really see anything is their opportunity to see that there are no more traditional roles that any industry any role can make it happen.
We do a lot of supportive scholarship programs for up and coming. We have a new scholarship, with SIAST for the automotive and auto body programs that actually is focused on getting women into those traits, getting women those opportunities, and I think the growth that can come from that and the diversity that will come from that is only going to increase as time goes on.
Yep, absolutely. That sounds fantastic. Jen, tell us how we can all find you and how we can support you.
For sure. We can be found online at www dot auto electric service.com. We have a great Facebook presence. We’ve been working on that lots. So whether it’s jokes about cars, whether it’s information about repairing your vehicle or whether it’s just things that are happening in local businesses and local communities, check that out for sure. So Facebook, auto electric service is easy to find on there. We can also be reached in Regina Estevan, Weyburn or Yorkton in any of our stores.
Excellent. That sounds fantastic. And thank you for joining me today, Jen. Thank you to everyone for tuning in for our show today.
If you would like to be a guest on the show, you can email me at BB at Google girl.ca or reach out on Facebook and Instagram at above the fold. ca. Just a reminder, you can even post questions on our Facebook page in advance of our shows. So I’m your host, Barb McGrath, local business owner and Google girl. Remember, you are charged for your success. Don’t keep it a secret. Bye for now.
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