By Rick Francoeur
I started my first business when I was 12 years old and looking to buy a dirt bike. I teamed up with my little brother, Daryl, and we started doing yard maintenance and lawn cleanup for our neighbours. We were young, but seemed to have a knack for business, pulling in $1,000 every month.
Today, Daryl and I still love working together. We co-own Carstar 360 Abbotsford, the longest-standing Carstar franchise in British Columbia, and we have plans to open three more locations by year’s end.
Eager to learn
I’m from Sproat Lake, which is part of Port Alberni on Vancouver Island. When I was growing up, my father, Denis, was one of the most sought-after and highly paid collision technicians in the province. I started going to work with him when I was 13 years old. Every afternoon, I would finish school, run three kilometres across town to the garage and work for an hour and a half until he went home for the day.
I kept up this daily routine, rain or shine, until I graduated from high school in 1989. My dad never owned his own shop. He essentially subsidized my wages with his own for all those years so I was able to train with him. Apprenticeships were difficult to get at the time and I always appreciated my father looking out for me the way he did and helping me prepare for my future at such an early age.
I knew I was meant to work with cars and never considered any other career path. Most teenagers cut class to hang out with their friends, but I only ever skipped school to work in the auto body shop. By the time I finished high school, I was already a year and a half into my apprenticeship. I attended Camosun College, a trade school in Victoria, and became a journeyman when I was 20. Meanwhile, Daryl took a different path. He studied engineering at university and ultimately became an aviation engineer.
Polishing my craft
As Port Alberni is a small forestry town, I left the island a year after finishing my apprenticeship and relocated to mainland British Columbia to further my career. I worked at Able Autobody in Surrey for a year before moving on to Don Beck Collision, also in Surrey, where I stayed for seven years.
It was here I was able to hone my collision repair skills by spending as much time in the garage as possible. It was a tough job, involving a lot of physical work and heavy lifting, but if you were willing to work hard, it was lucrative. I loved working with cars and wanted to learn everything I could about the business. After leaving Don Beck, I continued to work in repairs at other local automotive shops and further advanced my skill set.
When I was in my 30s, I injured my back at work. The injury healed and I was able to return to the garage, but I knew going forward I wouldn’t be able to work at the level I had been and I needed to explore other roles in the sector.