Thomas Kincer turns hobby into company that won SBA’s “Tennessee Rural Owned Small Business of the Year” award
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
A father’s love for Ford vehicles in general and Mustangs in particular was handed down to his son who recently turned that same passion, in this case for Ford Broncos, into a company that earned the “Tennessee Rural Owned Small Business of the Year” from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).
That’s a pretty remarkable accomplishment that many “would be” entrepreneurs would celebrate – turning a hobby that started with “piddling” with first generation Broncos in 2000-01 into a growing niche business that is also evolving from its repair and restoration roots.
For Thomas Kincer, who grew-up in East Knoxville and graduated from Kings Academy, repairing cars was almost an everyday occurrence in the family. His father was a dirt track racer, and the two actually restored a 1966 Mustang 2 + 2 while a teenager. He committed a major mistake, however, when the younger Kincer became fascinated with one of his buddies Jeeps.
“I bought a 1979 CJ5 for myself,” he said. “I thought my dad was going to disown me,” so Kincer sold the Jeep and bought a 1977 Bronco and, as they say, the rest is history. You see, the Kincer family is totally about Fords!
For a short period, the hobby was just that . . . a hobby. During his college years at the University of Tennessee (UT), Knoxville, Kincer played baseball. After his college years, he worked as an industrial electrician in the automation arena for several of years before founding the first of two companies under the Kincer Engineering and Design LLC brand in 2012.
That first business is named Krawlers Edge and focuses on providing specialty components like fuel tanks, motor mounts, coyote headers, and steering columns for Gen 1 Broncos – those manufactured between 1966 and 1977. Later, he added Kincer Chassis that makes frames and full rolling chassis as an official licensee of Ford Motor Company.
How did the young entrepreneur land his first restoration customer?
“I had a lead on a job and cold-called him,” the personable company owner said. “He wanted a 1977 orange and white Bronco. We landed the job, and I had three weeks and two months to complete the work.”
Kincer “borrowed” his father’s garage to complete the work that included taking the vehicle entirely apart, repairing all rust spots, and replacing every nut and bolt. Today, if you watch Knoxville television, you might see the result of his restoration efforts in a Home Federal Bank commercial.
The inaugural restored vehicle was shown at the 2012 “Bronco Super Celebration,” originally held at Chilhowee Park in Knoxville before moving to Townsend 10 years ago.
“From there, it began to mushroom,” Kincer said. The next request was a “buildout” for a person in Chattanooga who wanted a shiny midnight metallic blue 1976 Bronco restored
Kincer completed the job on schedule in time for the 2013 SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) Show in Las Vegas, and his work was on display outside the convention center where it captured the attention of Barry Meguiar, President and Chief Executive Officer of the automotive care product firm that carries his name. There was also further video exposure, thanks to ScottieDTV (click here to see that video on YouTube).
“That’s when it really started to explode, (creating) a snowball effect after that exposure,” Kincer said.
The business growth caused the young owner to move from his father’s garage to his own space in Rockford in 2014. His sister – Sabrina Stallings – also joined the company that year, and he candidly says they worked to figure things out.
“We did not have a clue what we were doing on the business operations side,” Kincer says, recalling a visit to a Best Buy store where they pondered which version of QuickBooks they needed. “We just went at it;” we were learning every day.”
Along the way, Kincer was connected to several SBA resources including the SCORE program and the Tennessee Small Business Development Center (TSBDC) as well as the UT Center for Industrial Services (CIS). All helped the team learn what they needed to learn.
“I have nothing but praise for SBA and the connections they made,” he says, calling out a few individuals in particular – Bruce Hayes, Laura Overstreet, and Teresa Sylvia of the TSBDC and Bill Hicks of UT’s CIS.
As the entrepreneur looks to the future, he’s cutting back on the repair side of the business. “It was taking time away from our Ford licensed chassis development and production,” Kincer says, adding a caveat: “We’ll still take on a few unique projects each year.”
He sees the future as building a brand-new Bronco for customers. It will be like a modern-day car with a modern drive train and transmission. Kincer Chassis has its official license from Ford, and the company has partnered with Dennis Carpenter of Concord, NC who provides the Ford-licensed body.
There are also plans to consolidate what are now two locations about 15 minutes apart into one facility.