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Zip's Customer Spotlight: Tow King, Waco, TX

by Cameron Hanson | Jun 06, 2024

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Gary Hoffman didn't need to see a guidance counselor in high school. He knew what he wanted to do as soon as he graduated: to join the family towing business. Problem is his parents had other ideas. They wanted a future for their son that lacked the physical demands of the labor-intensive towing profession.

“At first, I didn’t want Gary to be in this line of work,” admitted father James Lindgren, now 69, who spent most of his life in the towing industry. “It’s a tough business, as you know.”

“James has worked so hard over the years and has the calloused hands to show for it,” his wife, Linda, added. “He kept telling Gary, ‘Look at these hands. You’re going to college. You’re going to do something with your life.’ But Gary fell in love with towing and was very active in the business from a very young age.”

As the latest Zip’s Customer Spotlight profile, the Lindgrens started Tow King in September of 1992 in Waco, TX. When the time came, they eventually reached a compromise with their son. Gary would attend local Baylor University and pursue a degree in business management. At nights and on the weekends, he would answer phones, dispatch drivers and operate tow trucks when needed.

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“I knew this is what I wanted to do; however, my dad still put me through college,” Gary said. “I really didn’t want to go to school. I figured I’m just going to do this anyway, so he might as well give me the money instead of paying for college. But attending Baylor taught me alot about the ins and outs of looking at numbers, and I’ve developed a lot of good relationships with the school over the years.”

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Growing up in the business

The towing seed was planted early on for Gary. He started riding with his dad in a tow truck before he was old enough to drive. His summer job was to take care of the paperwork while his dad completed the hookup. This teamwork kept the father-son pair efficient. Gary’s penmanship didn’t hurt either.

“I’d tell him to write up the invoices because he could write better than me,” James joked while looking back at those early years. “I’d jump out and take care of the car or wreck, while he’d be writing up the invoice. I’d finish, and we’d be ready to go on the next call. We’d sometimes do 20 calls a day, just him and me.”

When not on a call, Gary kept busy by sweeping the shop floors, cleaning the trucks and helping with the billing and monthly statements. “Whatever it took,” he recalled. After college, he became a partner in the family business and fulfilled his ambition of owning a business. He eventually took over most of the daily operations from his parents, and they continue to serve as his inspiration.

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Motivated by family

A presence in central Texas for the past 32 years, Tow King primarily serves the Waco community, including McLennan County plus several neighboring rural areas. As needed, they’ll also cover most of the state and make regular runs to Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. The company partners with multiple law enforcement agencies, has secured several commercial accounts and also performs a variety of services for Baylor University.

“We have a lot of good commercial contracts and are currently six years into a 10-year contract with local police,” Gary noted. “That’s been huge for us. We’ve also eliminated slow-paying accounts and focused on better paying work, making the company more profitable. We’ve really expanded into more heavy-duty work, and a lot of diversification has helped us grow over the years.”

Originally starting out with four trucks, Tow King currently operates a fleet of 23 trucks and employs a staff of 35 drivers, mechanics and dispatchers. At the beginning, James and Linda admitted there were some “lean years,” but they are proud of the company’s success and growth to this point.

“We have grown far more than we ever anticipated we would,” Linda said.

“My parents started this business, and it’s just kept growing and growing,” Gary acknowledged. “This continues with my own personal drive to be the best at what we do. I want our company to be the best and the one that people look to and say they had a good experience working with those guys.”

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Besides his parents, Gary said he is also motivated by his own family. Wife, Aimee, is the Account Receivable Manager and handles all of the billing for the company, as well as being a "very attentive wife," he said. Oldest son, Tyler, is an operator for the company, and the two youngest children--Olivia, 11, and Lane, 9--are a constant presence at the Waco facility.

“I married into all of this,” Aimee joked. “I started out in medical sales and never thought I’d end up in the wrecker business. I just started helping Gary one day, answering the phone at home. A year later, I told him he had to put me on payroll because it turned into a lot more work. I had my own job at the time to do as well. I kind of fell into it.”

“I got lucky she married me,” Gary confessed.

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Long-time Zip’s customer

Tow King has been a customer of Zip’s for the past 13 years, and over that time, they have purchased 25 trucks from us. Their favorite is a 2022 Kenworth Vulcan V103 50-ton heavy. They call it their “prettiest truck,” and they should, as it won what Gary calls the “beauty contest” at a recent Texas tow show. Working closely with sales rep Trent Russler, they remain loyal to Zip’s and appreciate the personal attention they receive from the staff here.

“We work with Zip’s because of the customer service, professionalism and the relationships we’ve built over the years,” Gary explained. “They continually check in with me to see what’s needed. I’ve never had the follow-up like that from other companies. I know loyalty is not as common as it used to be, but when someone treats me right, I believe in staying with them.”

Besides heavies, the current fleet at Tow King includes a mix of medium- and light-duty wreckers plus car carriers. Gary said he tends to order and build trucks with the same setup and equipment, so their drivers are familiar with each truck. Keeping equipment up-to-date and clean helps with driver retention and promotes a professional image as well, he said.

“Nobody wants to climb up in a dirty truck that smells like smoke with trash everywhere,” Gary said. “We want drivers to keep their trucks clean and to keep their appearance clean. There is a lot of stereotyping in the towing industry, so we do try to be more presentable.”

Treating employees like family

Besides outfitting their crew with late model equipment, the owners at Tow King believe in treating their employees with respect and want to take care of them “the best we possibly can.” They realize their drivers and operations team are the face of the company,

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"Our dispatchers and customer service representatives are a vital key to our success," Aimee acknowledged.

"We do pay our employees very well because ultimately without them, we wouldn’t have the business we have,” Linda added. “You gotta have the customers. You gotta have the employees. I hate to say it, but I feel like now it is more challenging than it was for us at the beginning.”

Gary and James agreed.

“Some of the younger generations these days don’t seem to have the same work ethic that some of the older generations have,” Gary said. “One of the biggest challenges we have is getting people to buy into what we’re trying to do and to perform the way we want them to perform.”

“You’ll always have your problems with staff,” James said. “People don’t show up for work now like they used to. Before, you’d hire them and they’d be at work the next day. Nowadays, they might not even show up or they can’t pass their drug test or their criminal history. It creates a lot of challenges.”

Customer service is paramount

To keep everyone employed, officials at Tow King believe in the Golden Rule when it comes to customer service as well. They want to treat everyone how they would want to be treated. They also give back to the community through volunteer service at the local hospital and other charitable events.

“We believe customer service is king. Dad taught me that a long time ago,” Gary said. “We are in this for the repeat customers, while others in this industry seem to be in for the one time hit. Act like every call you’re going on is for your mother, grandmother or anyone else you love and how you would want to be presented to them.”

“Ultimately, all we can provide is great customer service,” Linda said. “James has always liked helping people. We’ve met a lot of nice people who were just desperate to get a boost or a tire change. He’s a compassionate person, and he likes to help people and make sure the customer is satisfied. He felt like he got that more through towing than anything he’s probably ever done.”

“When a customer calls or comes in, you know they’re in a bad situation,” Gary said. “You need to help them out. It’s getting out and doing the jobs that others don’t want to do. When you get a call for a tire change at 3 a.m., we’re going to get up and go. Doing everything we can has really helped us grow the business.”

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