The Mantra is “Drive Worry Free”; customer experience is the method of delivery. For 28 years Charlie Kidwell and his highly skilled crew continue to “WOW” the Washington DC metro area with industry leading workmanship, integrity and genuine appreciation for the people they serve.
In 1989 Kidwell and talented local technician, Wayne Mckeown became partners after realizing the need for reliable repair shops in the area. Charlie, Operations Manager for G&M High-Performance Parts, struggled to keep his fleets maintained when he found a solution to a time old problem through a chance encounter with Wayne. They both saw opportunity and potential for success; FreeState was born in 1989 from their hard work, combined resources, and expertise. Charlie “works on his business, not in his business”. After only a year Kidwell hired a second technician and with continued growth bought McKeown out in 1996. The business now supports and employs a 12 person co-ed crew consisting of 2 service writers, 1 marketing/road sales assistant, 1 foreman, 5 technicians and 2 shop assistants.
More family than a crew, Kidwell invests his time and his money where it counts. “It’s important to have good partners”, Charlie says. Charlie provides ongoing education for his “family” with 8 ASE certified employees earning FreeState industry-wide recognition as a Blue Seal Certified ASE shop and AAA approved facility. Kidwell further secures his return on investment with tenure recognition in the form of “Thank You” anniversary trips for his staff at the 5, 10 and 15-year markers. With the majority of FreeState’s staff tenured 5 years or more, it seems to work. Learning from the school of hard knocks as he got started, Charlie seeks to mentor those he travels within business. Charlie’s business philosophy “we can grow together” is exemplified in yearly goal setting sessions emphasizing personal growth and improvement anticipating that his people truly make him, and his business, better.
Kidwell’s unconventional take on shop management stems from his willingness to think outside the box and adapt to change. He models his business after a restaurant; it’s clean, consistent, it’s honest and a personal connection between customer and technician is valued. Charlie’s technicians routinely give “tours” under the hood, bridging the gap between educating consumers and vehicle maintenance. “It pays to know what to expect”, Kidwell says; from the restaurants people choose to the shops that maintain their vehicles, quality service is key and it works.
FreeState uses any and all means to stay current and adapt to market changes. Road sales have always been profitable for Kidwell as a key part of his grass roots start-up. However, the internet has made “advertising easier now than ever”. Charlie has weekly strategy meetings with his internet director that have produced two to three new customers a day. An active online presence and digital marketing have helped him work smart and FreeState has flourished.
People make the difference according to Charlie Kidwell. “Enjoy what you do and choose good partners that make you successful.” Charlie’s leadership style is embodied by the help of people that value others the same way he does. The FreeState team embraces the Pronto Smart Choice Way and strives to be the BEST at everything they do in offering Washington DC consumers dealer level service and workmanship without the dealer cost.