Ken and Rhonda Tomlinson, owners of Auto Enhancers, in Rockford, believe in maintaining a high ethical standard for their automotive business.

Success Stories: Auto Enhancers

Hard and honest work goes a long way at this Rockford auto specialist, whose owners operate their business through faith in God.

Ken and Rhonda Tomlinson, owners of Auto Enhancers, in Rockford, believe in maintaining a high ethical standard for their automotive business.
Ken and Rhonda Tomlinson, owners of Auto Enhancers, in Rockford, believe in maintaining a high ethical standard for their automotive business.

Ken Tomlinson likes doing business the old-fashioned way, by getting to know his customers, giving them what they need, and doing it all with honesty and integrity – and he never stops thinking.
“We do more for you,” is the motto of Auto Enhancers, 515 18th Ave., in Rockford. The business owned by Tomlinson is a complete collision repair and auto service center that has been growing steadily since it opened in 1999, and has seen exceptional growth since entering its current location in 2004.
Tomlinson and team live up to the company motto. Not only do they provide a complete line of car-care services, but they also can make an appointment for your massage, serve you coffee, invite you to read a magazine in their home-like setting, talk with you about the power of faith, give you a discount and tell you about other local businesses, while you make new friends.
Tomlinson’s wife, Rhonda, is the office manager and knows better than anyone about the dedication and passion her husband has for helping people.
“He is constantly thinking and he has a knack for tapping into ways to draw attention to the business and coming up with new ideas to service customers,” she says.
Recently, the business created a new website, a new logo, new business cards, new shirts for employees, new signage on the building, and an expanded social media presence.
The Tomlinsons want to conduct their family business by building trust and relationships with people, always catering to their needs and being creative enough to set themselves apart from the competition.
“No one in Rockford does mechanical and body work in one place,” says Ken. “We want to offer customers a complete line of services for vehicles. There is nothing we won’t do here, and all the work gets done right here at our shop. Nothing is sent out to be completed. We’re trying to build an awareness of all that we do. Even our customers are not aware of the many services we provide, and we’re trying to change that.”
The long services menu at Auto Enhancers includes collision repair, autobody, paint refinishing, detailing, mechanical repair, electrical diagnosis, alignment, heating and air-conditioning, suspension, exhaust, brakes, tires, glass, mirrors, hardware and trim replacement, and all fluid and filter services.
From the moment you walk in the door, you notice something is different. Right away, you sense a warm and friendly atmosphere and notice the comforts of home.
The waiting room looks like someone’s living room, with a fireplace, flat-screen TV, comfortable sofas, an area rug, a coffee table filled with books and magazines, freshly made coffee and inspirational messages hanging on the walls.
“When you walk in, we want you to feel like you are entering our home,” says Ken. “When we remodeled, we made the waiting area like a living room, so people could feel comfortable and relaxed.”
The Tomlinsons believe good business depends on building relationships. That’s why they make the extra effort to help customers feel comfortable and cared for.
The couple also shares the power of faith, with Bible verses displayed among the decor, prayer cards, and Bibles available.
About six years ago, Ken felt a desire to grow closer to God. He wasn’t raised in a church-centered family, but he came to know more about the power of faith through his wife’s family and Christian friends. One day, an employee invited him to church.
“It didn’t happen overnight, but it happened,” he recalls. “I began to see the power and comfort in having a belief in something other than myself. I give God credit for the success of my business, which should have never made it. We started small, in a non-business area, and didn’t advertise.
“When we started to grow and change, I knew there was more at work than just what we were doing,” Ken adds. “I just wanted to help people, and I believe when you truly care about others, that comes from wanting to please God. Our faith has helped us in our personal and our professional lives.”
Ken had no idea where he was headed when he started working with cars. In high school, he painted cars, helping his dad, Dwight, who goes by “Dewey” and now works part-time at Auto Enhancers.
“This business is not what I planned,” Ken says. “I just wanted to work on cars. But as we learned what customers wanted and needed, listened to them, and kept adding services, we saw our business grow.”
In the world of car repair, customers often are taken advantage of, says Ken. Too often, mechanics work on commission and will replace parts and perform services that are not necessarily needed at the time they are done. There are even times when people think they’ve had work done on their car, but haven’t.
Women, especially, are taken advantage of, Ken says. He recalls one woman who came in for a second opinion after someone told her she needed $1,200 worth of car repairs. Actually, the car didn’t need anything done.
“I know people are in business to make money, but I want to make it the right way,” Ken says. “I always explain to people what the situation is and let them decide what it is they want to do. If a part needs replacing or a service needs to be done, I will tell them. If it can wait, I will tell them that, also. I believe if you are honest with people, you will have more work than you know what to do with.”
When Auto Enhancers opened in 1999, on 11th Street in Rockford, it wasn’t an ideal location, Ken says. He and his father at that time only painted cars and did some detailing. Ken took management classes to learn how to better run a business, and then set out to build Auto Enhancers.
“We grew fast,” he says. “I found if I did good work, serviced customers, treated people well and gave them a good deal, the business built itself.”
As business grew, Ken added onto the building on 11th Street, but even that was soon too small. Three years after starting Auto Enhancers, he moved the business to 18th Avenue, in a spot that occupied about 18,000 square feet of space.
While completely remodeling the new building, Ken upgraded equipment and extended his services to include full-line mechanics, collision repair and expanded detailing.
Today, the business employs eight people, not including family members. There are three collision repair technicians, two painter/detailers, one full-time mechanic, one person specializing in social media and online sales, and one car salesman.
Three years ago, Auto Enhancers started buying cars for customers at online auctions. Now, the company purchases cars at low prices, fixes them up and sells them at affordable prices. It’s good for the customer who wants something at a particular price point, and it keeps employees working, even when business is slow.
Ever heard of getting a massage in the same place your car is serviced? At Auto Enhancers, you can make an appointment to get a massage while you wait for your car.
“I just thought, ‘Why not offer something no one else offers?’” says Ken. “People are always coming in here complaining about their aches and pains, especially if they’ve been in a car accident, so I just thought it would be a good idea to offer something else to help people feel better. Not a lot of people ask for it, but it is available if someone wants it.”
To help spread the message about his business, Ken even makes car decals that advertise a 10 percent discount. It’s just one more way to extend his quality service.
“It’s a simple thing, but people are always looking to save money,” he says. “If you’re sitting behind someone at a traffic light, you might see our ad and decide to give us a call.”