It all started with his 1972 Chevelle. That’s how Kirk Robinson explains his start into working at and buying Kinney’s Muffler Shop.

“Kinney Kimbro opened the shop in 1978 and I was just a runny-nosed high-school kid. I came on board with him just a couple of years after he opened it. He liked my car and he liked the way I really took care it. I think he really saw something in me that he liked – the personality for business? I don’t know what it was. I was wild and rebellious. It was just a plain Chevelle but I had changed it into a Chevelle SS.” Kirk had been saving up for a car by mowing lawns and working at a pool company since age 12 long before he had a driver’s license.

Although Kinney did much of the bending at the shop. The young Robinson boy was assigned to John Cervantes to learn his bending craft.  “John Cervantes only showed you. He did not talk to you. He said ‘I don’t know how to tell you how to bend.’ He said ‘Just watch.’ He was reluctant to be verbal but repetition is good for me.  “I was trained eventually where I was Kinney’s manager in the early ’90s and he offered me his business in ’96 and I bought in 1997,” Kirk said. 

As business grew, Kirk and his wife Norma took over a former Goodyear Tire Center that included an 1,800-square-foot showroom where Kirk could show off a wide array of exhaust. While many didn’t feel the economic crunch until the crash of 2008, Kirk said his business started feeling the pinch during 2007. “What we do is so much more elective rather than necessary and we started to see some fall off. We didn’t and still don’t do other services. We only do exhaust and cold-air kits.” Kirk and Norma liked the present location, but the lease cost was high and the landlord wouldn’t budge. They moved to a smaller facility with a much more reasonable lease in 2010. 

“I really didn’t like it at first because the showroom was smaller – from 1,800-square-feet to 600-square-foot is a lot to swallow. Within a year I realized the downsizing was fine,” Kirk said. “I didn’t make my money from a large show room. We made our profits doing what we do under the vehicle. Our reputation is stronger than what I ever thought.  “Surprisingly, I am not the guy who goes out to car shows all the time because I am living that at work every day. But my son convinced be to go to a car show and I was blown away. There were 350 to 400 cars and the majority of them were my customers. It made me feel very proud. He got to see it as well so it was a double-edged ‘Wow’ for us.”

Business continued to be tough but by 2011 and 2012 Kirk said he could see significant improvements “from the dark shadow known as the recession.” The current shop uses four bays for install work with two other bays to handle equipment needs. Instead of one bender, the shop now uses two and in addition to Kirk there are three full-time and one part-time techs. Kirk admits that he is not in the bays a much as he used to be but he is forced back there when a tech is on vacation or is ill. He added that he can’t be idle in the office when they are busy back there. “I’ll get very involved. It is actually pleasurable to get out there and get physical. I probably perform about 15% to 20% of the work on average.” 

The shop’s success, he said, is based on the national exposure it gets through social media by offering an extensive video file of exhaust sounds from various vehicles and systems. More than 500 are online. Another 1,800 are available and his shop also offers an app on exhaust sounds for smart phones. He also brags about a great team of techs and a great manager, Jesus Linares. “He is like having two owners. He is very talented.” Jesus and he also are constantly complimented for the time they take explaining the job to the customer.  

“Custom, performance exhaust is 70% of our business. There is another 15% to 20% that is emissions – catalytic converters, manifold converters. The rest is miscellaneous stock exhaust. We do an enormous amount of business with body shops, general repair shops and car dealers that come to us for exhaust repairs and replacements. When there are weather changes – rain, hail, snow – that business increases a lot. There also is an awful lot of corrective exhaust work we do. You’re not replacing anything, you’re just resituating the exhaust systems because people get in minor accidents from texting and things like that. The body shops tell me that the little fender benders from texting makes up about 40% of their business.” While Kirk carries all the popular brands of performance exhaust mufflers, he also carries house brands that he helped develop. The mufflers are made with a stainless perforated core, as are the suppression materials. I named one the ‘Street Demon.’ Muffler sales took off very quick because of our video presence on the internet. It became every bit as a big of a seller as the name-brand performance mufflers that motorists ask for. About four years ago he came out with an open-expansion chamber muffler called ‘Tunnel Ram.’ It has been equally impressive.”  On some occasions a motorist will arrive with his own mufflers, wanting them to be installed. Kirk won’t turn them away. He will charge a small service fee. He calls it an ‘insurance fee’ that protects the customer, just in case the muffler is damaged during installation. He does tell them there may be a need for hardware and altering of the over the axle pipe. He doesn’t give a quote until he looks at the underside of the vehicle to determine what is required. Then he adds: “If you bring your own eggs to IHOP they are still going to charge you for the Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity Breakfast.” 

If the customer wants a cat-back system and hasn’t ordered it yet, Kirk will show them his own system that incorporates the Street Demon or Tunnel Ram muffler. He makes sure they know that his lifetime warranty for these systems includes parts and labor. 

Most of Kinney’s customers are 35 and older because performance exhaust is the dominant product. A plus for Kinney’s is that the shop is in an area where residents have a substantial amount of disposable income. Customers include men with brand new or next-to-new pickups. “Then it takes a complete turn to old muscle cars, collector cars and show cars. The in between would be the catalytic converters and the kids with the tuner cars.”  Again, Facebook and other forms of the social media help drive the business because viewers see the special ceramic-coated exhaust that is available, and they can hear what a car sounds like. Two such car are Kirk’s and Norma’s own Dodge Hellcats.  Diesel exhaust work is almost non-existent. Kirk said some new truck dealers don’t even want the customer to get new tips. Kirk said he still can perform custom work on 2005 and older diesels but he doesn’t touch the newer models because federal EPA regulations are so strict. The other issue is that someone may want a pipe replaced but a quick glance underneath shows the particulate trap is already missing. He won’t touch them.

Kinney’s services about 12 to 15 vehicles per day. Saturday is a “crazy day” and the count might reach 25 he said. More than 60% of the vehicles are pickups. About 15% to 20% of the work involves the use of 409 stainless. The majority is 14-gauge aluminized steel. Kinney’s get’s business from all over the country. If a regular “driver” comes in out of Chicago or another Great Lakes regions he knows that road crews dump ton after ton of salt on the roads and the stainless is the only way to go. 

Hours at the shop are a bit different too – it is closed on Sundays and Mondays. On Saturdays the shop is open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and it is on a first-come, first serve basis. Tuesday through Friday is by appointment only, and very few non-appointments get in. Kirk added that on appointment days he leaves some “windows” available for his wholesale customers. “They are our bread and butter,” he said of the 40 shops that include body shops, general repair shops and car dealers. 

The majority of retail customers are locals, with others coming from southern Texas. “We get four to six a month that will come from out of state. With those we commemorate the visit by taking a picture of them with their car outside of the shop. We post it on Instagram and our Facebook account and then we take that same photo and place it on our website’s out-of-state and out-of-town customer page. Another page acts as a tourism guide to let them know various sites they can visit, such as the Texas Motor Speedway, AT&T Stadium and the historic Fort Worth Stockyards.