Shane Thon says he was both surprised and humbled when he was named the Business Person of the Year at the Quesnel & District Chamber of Commerce’s Business Excellence Awards event on Oct. 21.
Thon and his wife, Nicole, own Fraser River Chevrolet in Quesnel. They have 22 employees and support just about every sports club and community group in the city.
Thon grew up in Fort Fraser in northern British Columbia and the main income in the family household was directly correlated to the mining industry.
He relocated into Quesnel in 1982 and the family had a small farm in Marguerite.
His father had transferred from Endako Mine to Gibraltar Mines and was into software development and pit designs in the geology department.
“So his aspirations were for me to attend UBC and claim the illustrious engineering red jacket and do all the things with the Volkswagen the engineers tend to do.”
Thon finished high school and graduated in 1986 and he went to UBC and enrolled in the engineering faculty.
“By the time I got to the Christmas break, I had quickly figured out that it wasn’t for me. Sitting in a classroom with 500 other people spinning their pens who were way better at calculus than me.
“I figured once I got my diploma, I wasn’t going to be at the top of the food chain. I didn’t know what kind of engineering job would actually be there for me when I was done.”
Thon says he tree planted and worked in the forest sector for a while. He also worked in a woodwork cabinet shop in Macalister for a bit.
“When I was in the forest sector in Williams Lake, I was working in camp at Likely. There was about seven feet of snow that winter and conditions were not favourable.
“I came home to an empty apartment that my girlfriend cleaned out, and I said, ‘there’s got to be another way to make a living’.”
Then he applied at the GM store in Williams Lake and he started at $6.50 an hour at the service counter.
“I worked my way up from the service department to the sales. I did commercial fleet sales, and then I was the sales manager, which took me through a 13-year tenure down there.”
Thon says Johnson Brothers had the dealership in Quesnel and it was for sale.
“The gentleman I worked for in Williams Lake offered me an opportunity as an owner.
“On Nov. 1, 1999, I gathered up enough working capital to buy 20 per cent of the dealership.”
He has since purchased it.
“When I had my last day in Williams Lake and thinking it was our first day in Quesnel and we had to get the keys. It was quite ironic – in the car business we all have demos. Of course, I wasn’t working for Williams Lake anymore, so they took my demo away and I didn’t even have a car.
“We had all of the documents and forms we needed that had our legal name on it. Nicole and I had signs with ‘Fraser River GM’ on them just to start the place up.
“So we showed up in this little Sun Fire filled with all these boxes and ready to fire up the business.”
However, the dealership certified union employees had been on strike for three months up to the point when he had the keys.
He adds the bargaining unit was on strike and they hadn’t done any business for three months prior to him coming in.
“There were picket lines and stuff out front. So, it was definitely a bumpy start to say the least.
“There were three employees who were active and not on strike, so we had to clean the place up, get the janitors in and the paint on, and start hiring people.”
Thon says they average around 22 employees a year.
“Nicole and I didn’t have any kids when we arrived. We raised our family here and we enjoy the wonderful things Quesnel has to offer.
“We try to always be involved in the community. I sat on the multi-centre committee for five years working on the arena replacement project. Having our seats in the brand new arena makes us proud to be part of the project.
“Sponsoring hockey and all the other local sports is what we try to do with the dealership. On average, we probably put around $40,000 of donations back in the community.”
As far as the award goes, Thon says over the 18 years they been in business in Quesnel, they have been nominated in multiple categories.
“I’m always proud to just be nominated. I was surprised and, obviously, very humbled by winning it.
“It’s very cool … Nicole is my best friend and business partner. She has worked at the dealership right beside me the whole time.
“Unfortunately, she couldn’t make it [to the event] because we have kids who are still in hockey. One son was playing down in Penticton, so she was down there watching him.
“It’s unfortunate she wasn’t there because I would have loved to give her credit in front of all our peers for putting me up there.
“In hindsight, it’s probably better because I don’t think I could have contained my emotions.”
He says the other side of the award is recognizing the 22 people inside the box is what makes it happen.
“I also want to thank all of the customers who have endorsed us over the years.”