Newer is not always better. That’s why AJ Towing believes in revamping and repurposing what they already have before getting new: trucks, talents, and the name itself.
By Sarah Bruce
Working in the towing industry can be tough. Competition is fierce, customers are not always happy, and trucks and equipment are never cheap. But by combining the skills each family member brings to the team, AJ Towing in Chilliwack, B.C. is making the best of it.
AJ Towing began as Alf Jones Auto Body and Towing in 1948. Alf Jones was the first tow truck operator in Agassiz and was in the towing and repair industry until 1975. In 2004, inspired by a passion for 4x4ing, mechanics, and towing, his grandson, Doug Siebert, shortened the name to AJ Towing, and the family business was revived!
But he couldn’t do it alone, and before long the rest of the family jumped in, all bringing their individual skills to the team. Mary, his mom, stepped in as business manager, Megan, his sister, as head dispatcher, and Jason, his brother, to repair and rebuild the tow trucks and equipment. Their dad also helps out when he can, using his construction skills to renovate and repair the company’s infrastructure.
“It’s funny, but we jumped in not knowing we all had these skills,” Mary said, reflecting on how the family came together as a team. “As we moved along, everybody has bloomed and moved into doing what needs to be done.”
“We all have different skills we are able to apply to the business,” Jason said. “We come together and make it happen. I couldn’t do what my mom or brother does. That’s the best way a family business works, because everybody is good at something else.”
And what Jason is good at has definitely helped AJ Towing’s success.
“I worked in the truck and trailer industry for the longest time building dump trucks and mining equipment,” Jason said. “The family tow business needed a new deck for the deck truck and we didn’t have the 20 grand to buy one, so I made a new deck and it just carried on from there.”
It was actually Alf Jones who inspired their business model. “Grandpa was always the one who fixed something. He didn’t buy new, just fixed it and made it better and that’s where we got it from,” Jason said. It was this theory of fixing before buying that turned a tow company with only one truck into the eleven-truck operation it is today.
“You can make things better than what you buy and for the fraction of the cost,” Jason said. “When you cross over into the hand-built stuff it’s almost like metal art verses production-line metalwork. The difference is just night and day. And it feels pretty good. I put a lot of time and effort into the family business and the trucks and I know that everything is going to last a lot longer because of the material we use.”
“I find a lot of the equipment that is produced now is made offshore and made with inferior metals,” Doug said. “All the trucks we have are still built with steel made in North America.”
“There is lower carbon content in steel,” Jason said. “That’s what makes a big difference. Like real cheese versus—”
“Processed cheese!” Mary interjected, just as enthusiastic as her sons about repairing and rebuilding their equipment.
Jason estimates it costs 10 percent of the retail price to make equipment, as long as you have the material and skill to get the job done. With the materials and his skills, AJ Towing can save big when it comes to repairs and replacements.
“When you need a deck for a truck and you don’t have a welding shop, you’re almost better off just to trade the truck in or lease a brand new one because the cost is outrageous.” For him to build a new deck costs about $2,000 in materials and his time, still a fraction of the retail cost and installation.
Towing equipment is expensive,” Mary explained, “but at least with Jason it allows us to buy an older truck, get him to rebuild the deck and get him to put it on.”
Jason’s skills enable the company to buy older trucks, otherwise destined for scrap, fix them up, replace parts, and make them great.
“It’s amazing what you can do if you make a new deck,” Jason said. “Fix the wheel lift, clean up the frame, paint the frame, paint the deck, paint the truck, and all of a sudden your old 2002 wrecker or deck truck is brand new again. And older stuff is better than the newer stuff because the electrical isn’t there. And a lot of times, parts for older trucks are cheaper than
parts for a new truck. If you want a part for your brand new truck, guess what, it’s a lot of money.”
Jason wasn’t the only sibling to bring in skills to better the business.
“Megan jumped in ten years ago because we were failing with the front end,” Mary said. At the time, they were just looking for someone to answer the phones, but it soon became apparent Megan was capable of much more. “We can’t do it without her. She’s formulated a whole bunch of good ideas in the office.”
“She’s actually made this company more profitable,” Doug said. “When she stepped in she took over dispatching, managing the office, billing, contracts, designing logos, and making the magic happen.”
“Working the front desk can sometimes be the hardest part of the business,” Megan said, “because you are dealing with angry customers. We are not in the industry of happy people.
You’re never in a good mood calling a tow truck.” But Megan has ten years of experience now, and through trial and error, she’s found the best way to help customers walk away feeling good.
“After ten years, you learn what to say and what not to say to a customer, and it doesn’t matter what service I’m providing them. Whether an unlock, a tow, an impound, or a RCMP tow, I’m always very direct. I always give the total amount while I’m on the phone with them. I don’t less GST or fuel charge because I think that’s dishonest and it puts either myself or my driver in a bad situation when they say it’s this price and all of a sudden it’s $20 to $30 more than the price that was quoted. Honesty is the best way to go. I give them that price and
if they’re upset and have to come to my office, it gives them time to diffuse before they get here. And then usually, I don’t have angry customers.
“My brother, Jason, taught me a long time ago to always leave with your customer saying thank you, whether you’ve impounded their car or they’ve been in an accident.”
“I always apologize for the inconvenience,” Doug said, regardless of their situation. “We are usually helping people at their worst. I sometimes like to say we are psychiatrists too. Everyone always tells their life story to you. My dad says, ‘You gotta change your hat for whatever job you are doing.’ One day I’m a mechanic, the next a driver, then a psychiatrist.”
AJ Towing also has two secret weapons for dealing with unhappy customers: Colt the dog and Pudgy the cat. “A lot of people are excited to see a dog and it takes their mind off of whatever terrible thing has happened and puts them in a better mood,” Megan said, gesturing to the golden retriever who greets everyone when they come in. “It’s a comfort thing.”
With a great team, repairs and rebuilds being done in house, and a dedication to quality customer service, AJ Towing has a lot going for them. But they have no intention of expanding beyond their means, they’re happy with the size of their business.
“That is one thing my mom has always said, ‘We got to be strong at home,’” Doug said. “A lot of people are trying to spread themselves too thin and that’s usually when mistakes happen and companies fold.”
“We want to be long and strong,” Mary said. “We are all going to succeed in exactly what we enjoy doing. And that’s what the family business is all about.