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Two in one: Ottawa business hoping to change garage experience

Midweek Mugging: Friends Kenny Lum and Twinson Liu started Urban Reifen to set themselves apart from other tire shops, offering an experience while you wait

When you get your tires changed, it’s rarely by choice, you stay and wait for the work to be completed at the shop, and if you do, the experience is usually forgettable.

But Kenny Lum and Twinson Liu hope to change that with Urban Reifen, their Ottawa tire shop that also doubles as a coffee shop and cafe.

Lum is an Ottawa-native, while Liu moved from Calgary a few years ago and through his work experience at many garages and dealerships, he thought the Ottawa’s car maintenance industry lacked a certain level of customer service.

“I’ve been in the auto service industry my whole life,” Liu said, which includes in the Ottawa-area, and said he’s seen first-hand where customers are usually taken for a ride by dealerships and garages.

“I wanted something that was to my standard and then I met Kenny,” he said.  

Lum and Liu at first wanted to start a BBQ restaurant but then decided to go with a customer-service oriented tire shop, adding on the café after to add to the customer experience.

“I wanted a place where a customer could get their service done and not feel bad waiting there,” Liu said.

“Most places you’re sitting in a plastic chair with no arm rests, you’re just on your phone sitting very close to someone that you’re not necessarily comfortable with for an hour in silence.”

At Urban Reifen, Liu said most of the regular customers are still at the shop when their car is done.

“We want a place to come and stay, not just spend money every time.”

It’s not just the coffee and food that has the duo popular among customers either, as their jack system with no hoist allows them to get cars in and out quickly and allows for booking on the same day.

The lack of a hoist means they can have a car in and out of the shop with new tires before the average hoist has been lifted to the top, according to Lum.

“Before they even start, we’re already finished,” Lum said, adding people love the efficiency and flexibility.

“They can book anything they need, or we’ll stay open late for them, especially during the winter because it’s so unpredictable,” he said.

“We want to be able to get customers on the road safety so for us to stay open for an extra hour, both parties win.”

Lum, who has three diplomas from Algonquin College including in hospitality, said the small business community has been mostly helpful as they’ve undertaken their venture, even adding collaborative space with a car detailer recently, too.

Over a year into business himself, In terms of advice for budding entrepreneurs, Lum said adaption is key to survival.

“At first we started with specifically tires and wheels, then we added oil changes…and then the café,” Lum said, noting it’s the willingness and ability to change that’s kept them in business.

Lum added it’s important to know the ‘true costs’ of your overhead as well for a business owner starting out on your own, to avoid any more unnecessary financial burdens.

“Know your numbers. Make all the phone calls you need to do as if you’re actually going to start the business, find out every single detail.”

Urban Reifen is located on Caesar Avenue in Nepean and more information can be found on their website.


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