Philip Thoma has been in the truck and vehicle repair business for 45 years. It’s the only job he’s ever had. His parents, Phil and Donna Thoma, opened Richfield Service in 1972 in a 40’x80’ foot building.
“We would get off the bus from grade school or high school and my dad made sure we were at work at 4 p.m.,” Thoma said. “If we weren’t, he was up at the house telling us, ‘Come on, let’s go. I’ve got work for you.’”
Philip’s dad was a mechanic and parts manager at a car dealership and he wanted to start his own business. Through the course of 45 years and several expansions, what started as a 3,200-square foot auto repair business became an auto and truck repair center, tire dealer and Mitsubishi Fuso dealership in a 10,000-square foot facility.
When Philip’s dad wanted to cut back on his hours at the shop, Philip took over running the business with the help of his wife.
“As a young person at that time, I grew from working for my dad to running the shop on a larger scale,” Thoma said. “I could see the need for me to step away from the day-to-day work on the floor and step into an advisor role so that I could work on the business instead of in the business. You have to grow into that.”
One of the strategic changes Philip made was for Richfield Service to also become a Mitsubishi Fuso dealership in 2000.
“Usually, big trucks are serviced at manufacturer shops or large diesel repair facilities,” Thoma said. “No one was really working on the little box trucks, and they’re very similar to a car. We were servicing a fleet of Fuso trucks and decided to pursue becoming a dealer.”
Thoma says the trucks don’t sell in high numbers, but it’s a good niche for them to be in.
“Becoming a dealer gives people a reason to come out to the sticks where we’re located,” Thoma said.
In 2007, Thoma also became affiliated with Moraine Park when an instructor asked him if he would serve on an advisory committee for the auto tech program.
“I could see that getting young techs was going to be a problem in the future so I was already actively recruiting young people from high school to do oil changes and change tires,” Thoma said. “If they were accepted into the Moraine Park program I would pay for their two years of schooling and they would stay on with me after they graduated. It’s worked out very well so far.”
Philip feels that Richfield Service’s trajectory follows how the industry has grown.
“We have to work on our business every day. Years ago, we just worked in our business and worked on our business very little,” Thoma said.
One thing that hasn’t changed though is how Richfield Service takes care of its customers.
“My dad’s focus was on taking care of people. It’s a small community,” Thoma said. “That’s still my philosophy today. I want to serve the community with integrity and always do the right thing. It’s all about the details.”
The business also remains a family affair. Many times you’ll find Philip’s wife, Patty, helping deliver vehicles, plan an advertising campaign, or just offering moral support. Philip and Patty’s son, Phil, runs the truck department and their daughter, Carrie, serves as the warranty administrator, oversees accounts receivable, and also helps with advertising and marketing.
For the last four years, Thoma has turned to First National Bank for his business banking needs.
“A friend with a business in Milwaukee recommended First National Bank to me,” Thoma said. “I was frustrated with my current bank because they didn’t seem to have any interest in helping me. I knew that at some point I would need to establish a good relationship with a bank.”
After meeting with First National Bank staff and establishing several accounts, Thoma was impressed.
“I knew that if I was going to affiliate myself with a bank, First National Bank was a bank that I would want to be with.”
Thoma says that he runs his business similar to how First National Bank operates.
“First National Bank is friendlier and more personable than other banks, and that’s what we emphasize to our tech advisors. I tell our advisors to get to know their customers because these are people you’re going to see in the community. You want your customer to have a warm, friendly feeling when they think of you, and that’s what we feel when we think of First National Bank.”
As for the future? Thoma says expansion plans could be on the horizon if the market conditions are right. If so, he knows he can rely on his business line of credit from First National Bank to help him reach his goals.
In the meantime, Richfield Service will continue doing what it has done for the last 45 years — focus on building strong customer relationships and providing the highest quality workmanship possible on every job.
“Those are things that make me proud of this business,” Thoma said.
Richfield Service utilizes state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment, and all mechanics receive monthly training to remain current with today’s automotive technology. They are a AAA-approved repair facility, a NAPA AutoCare Center and a TIA-certified tire dealership.
“The relationships that First National Bank has with its customers is the kind of relationship we strive to establish with our own customers.”
— Philip Thoma, President, Richfield Service
Mitsubishi Fuso is a registered product and trademark of Mitsubishi Motors Corporation.