In 1964, at age 23, Farmer set out on his own forming a firm called Tyre & Accessory Supplies taking advantage of recent legislation allowing for the sale of discounted products. “I started off on my own but it grew and I needed to employ people. I didn’t know how so I employed my pals from my boyhood and other people I knew. We were a team, a band of brothers,” he remembers. “We had the same age, energy and enthusiasm and because I knew them there was no learning curve. That is one of the main challenges in a business employing someone but not knowing six months down the line whether it will work or not. It’s like meeting a girl. You have to work hard to find the right person.”
Four years on he sold the firm and travelled to the US for a few months break but he kept an eye out for his next big idea.
“What I saw in America were companies starting to specialise in products like McDonald’s in burgers and KFC with chicken. I came back from the States and met my original team and one of the biggest compliments I ever had was when they said ‘What are we, not you, going to do now?” Farmer smiles.
The answer was Kwik-Fit and specialising in exhaust fitting.
“They only last for about 18 months so there is a big repeat market,” Farmer says. “We also wanted products that could be bolted on and off quickly. I wanted a name to reflect that and I remembered when I had that job cleaning cookers at 15 and I advertised in the papers with K’s instead of c’s to get attention –Kooker Kleening - so I thought let’s try it again! Kwik-Fit came to me like a bolt of lightning. You would have paid a marketing consultant thousands to come up with that.”
Kwik-Fit grew quickly driven forward by acquisitions and expansion on to the continent including centres in Holland, France and Germany. Its success – it never made a loss - was also boosted by one of the most famous TV advertising campaigns of all time – the ‘You can’t get better than a Kwik-Fit fitter’ song first aired in 1984.
It was constant progression until the firm was bought for £1.2billion in 1999 by the Ford Motor Company. Farmer stayed on until 2002.
“Our advertising was smart and memorable, we saw a market opportunity and we went out and we captured it but our team was the main thing. It was the best and it was the best because we devoted a lot of time and attention to them,” Farmer states. “So many firms say our people are our most important assets but they come out glib. You’ve got to really mean it. People must be happy and enjoy their job and they can only do that if they know what the job is all about and they have been trained properly and know what is expected of them. You know if you buy ten Apple computers they are all the same but every single person is different and they are different every day of the week. You have to pay attention to that.”
In our next instalment we will hear how Sir Tom Farmer rewards his team for their hard work…