February 22, 2020
Interview with Kevin Killilea
3 Feet Cycling is proud to highlight our teammate and title sponsor – Kevin Killilea of Aristocrat Motors. In this interview we talk a little bit about cars, community outreach and charities, and, of course, bikes.
Thank you for your time today, Kevin. Tell us a bit about Aristocrat Motors and what you do here.
Well, my title is Vice President, Chief Financial Officer and Chief operating Officer and that's of the Soave Automotive Group. Aristocrat is one piece of that and it's our largest dealership, which has Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, Land Rover, Porsche, Maserati, and Alfa Romeo brands. We also have Mercedes Benz of Kansas City on the South side of Kansas City. That's just Mercedes-Benz and Mercedes Commercial Vans. And then we have a store in Topeka, which has BMW and Volkswagen brands. My job is basically supervising everything on our financial side, human resources and fixed operations, which is parts and service business. Another person, Marion Battaglia, and I operate the dealerships together, his primary areas of responsibility are Sales and Marketing.
How long have you been in the automotive industry?
I've been here a Soave and Aristocrat since 2004 but I've been in the business all my life. I was 10 years at a dealer group in Southwestern Michigan prior to coming to Kansas City.
I know we spoke some time ago and you have quite a resume of a high performance driving as well with these vehicles.
Yeah. We can get, at various dealer meetings, the opportunity to drive a lot of these cool cars on racetracks. So, I've had that opportunity several times to drive on race tracks and roads all over the world, South Africa, Portugal, Germany (Autobahn), United States, and pretty much every brand that we represent.
Do you have any community outreach or any type of external relationships you support?
Yeah, it's a major part of our community outreach, being involved with various, charitable and community organizations. Some of our most high-profile activities would be the, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts where we’re one of the primary sponsors of all the various shows that come in there, not counting the symphony or the ballet. So that's obviously a very high profile and very community oriented facility and series of activities and programs that they do there.
And we do a lot of other things - you've probably seen our parts van; it was a Dirty Kanza last year. All the logos on the side of that represent some of the community organizations that we deal with. In the cycling world, Sunflowers to Roses as our primary focus which we’ll talk about more in a little bit.
Another charity that I've been pretty involved with is called Sleepyhead Beds. It's a grassroots charitable activity in Kansas City. Their job and their mission is to provide beds to under-served children in the Kansas City Metro area. When I first got involved with this - and it's going back 10, 11 years now - it was surprising to learn how many kids don't have beds to sleep in. What Sleepyhead Beds figured out was basically advertise that they’ll take your used bed and, if it's in good shape, it can be refurbished. Basically, they'll take it, disinfect it and clean it up. They have a huge list of people looking for beds in the disadvantaged communities of the area. Then they place beds with people in need. I've had the opportunity to go out on the van with the crew and deliver beds to people and it's amazing to see the reaction from little kids that get their first bed when you know they've been sleeping on a couch or in a chair or on the floor or whatever, and now they actually get a bed to sleep in. It's pretty amazing.
Another thing - there been a lot of studies done that correlate a good night's sleep on a bed in a proper setting to improving education and the ability of children to learn. So, it really serves a huge purpose in the community. The other thing that's kind of cool about this charity is that used beds are the biggest consumer of landfills. If you go and throw your bed in the trash and it goes to landfill, it takes up more space than any other piece of garbage that goes into a landfill. And landfills don't like them. They're hard to decompose. So, Sleepyhead Beds service an environmental purpose as well.
What was it about three feet cycling that got your attention?
Oh, I was trying to think about that. I think Craig (Henwood) may have just made a cold call on me at one point. I don't know if he got connected through Dennis Case or somebody, but somehow, he contacted me and explain what 3 Feet was doing and the need for sponsorship and so on. I think it was probably four years ago now, that he called, and we got involved. I've been involved with cycling in the area for a long time, not a racer or anything like that. It just sounded kind of interesting and what he explained to me was beyond the racing aspect. It just kind of advocating for the three feet laws in both states (Kansas and Missouri). Having been on the road and been ridden or run off the roads, bumped and so on and so forth over the years, I was like, okay, I can get behind this. We don't spend a ton of money marketing in the cycling community, but we try strategically. We feel that cyclists hit our demographics pretty well as far as the types of cars that they buy or are interested in. So, we felt that there was a pretty good synergy with us being involved with cycling. Really, that was one of the reasons we got involved with Sunflowers to Roses 10 or 12 years ago, something like that. 3 Feet was kind of a different way to expand our reach in the cycling community and had a good message. We just decided to give it a try and started getting involved with some of the rides and it's just kind of grown from there. I'm pretty sure it was Craig reaching out.
Expanding on that, we have the Mercedes Mondays starting up in April and running through the first week of October.
That was our kind of hook into when Craig and I first started talking and he told me about the Monday and Tuesday rides, at that time, from Foodies (restaurant) in Olathe. I was like, Oh, okay. Well, we were kind of looking for something like that. We had been doing Mercedes Mondays with the Spin Pizza rides in Overland Park for a couple of years then Spin kind of decided to unwind their involvement with that. That piece kind of fell apart but we kind of liked what our involvement could be with the cycling community a regularly scheduled group ride. So, I was like, Oh, this could be a really good substitute for us for the Mercedes Mondays that we had been doing with Spin. That's kind of how we got started with it. And it's, I think, like a lot of things over the years; we've kind of evolved it a little bit. We've gotten a little bit more formal with, the vehicles we bring out and some of the, you know, photo taking and video capture we do with it. And then of course, I always like to, host everybody afterwards for pizza and beer or whatever they want to stick around and have. And, we always pay for food and beverages for anyone that stays after those rides!
You mentioned that you've been involved with cycling for some time but not necessarily racing. How did you get your start into it and what was your attraction to cycling?
Well, I mean, probably like a lot of people, that was how you got around when you were a kid, before you had a driver's license. So, I rode my bike everywhere. When I was, I don't know, probably fifth grade until literally I got a driver's license, it was how I got around and, I just always enjoyed it. I was never an avid cyclist. It was just a means of transportation for a lot of my youth. And of course, you get driver's license and the bike goes in the garage and gathers dust and you know, how it is. When you're in college, you know, you can't have a car on campus or something like that and you think about that bicycle you left in the garage. And even then, it didn't last very long when you got the ability to have the car on campus.
I probably really kind of got back into cycling after I graduated from college and I was living Indianapolis and was just looking for something to do and a form of exercise. That was probably spring of 1985 when I kind of got back into it. I had always had a kind of a fantasy of having a single gear, free wheel bike that, kind of looked like a 10 speed, so to speak at that point in time. I actually went to a place called the Bike Garage in Indianapolis and had them build one for me. That was a great place. I don't even remember what the frame that was - an old Columbia or something like that. They fit a free gear on the back and handbrakes on it. And drop bars. And that's what I rode around Indianapolis for three years. That's when I actually first learned that a helmet was a good idea because I got run off the road a few times.
In Indianapolis you don't have wide shoulders like you have here on the roads. It's like the edge of the road is the edge of the road. I mean, you fall off it, you're in the grass and the gravel, whatever it might be. It probably wasn't a good choice where I was riding, but I was riding one day down this road and it had been paved recently and it had a, I don't know, five, six inch drop off at the edge of the road. A car came right up on me and actually bumped me, and I fell off the road and, and fell back into the roadway. I ended up with half of my body on the road hit my head. Fortunately, I had a helmet on. I was lucky I didn't get run over by a car. So, I learned a lot about maybe finding less traveled roads and something that maybe had something on the side or whatever. So anyway, I, yeah, I rode that bike for three years and it was fun.
I think my next bike was an as Nishiki 12 speed road bike. It was called an Olympic. That was a nice bike. I just kind of went from there and kept getting different bikes and trying different things. Unfortunately, at one point, I was playing ice hockey (which I had played for years) and I was injured in a game and tore up my shoulder and had to have it reconstructed. I wasn't ever comfortable riding a drop bar bike again. So, I've used a flat bar bike ever since, just because of the way my shoulder works. So, I have a kind of a weird looking bike. But I ride. I mean that's my primary form of exercise in good weather. I don't like to ride when it's 50 degrees or colder, just don't like that.
This winter I started doing spin rides at Lifetime Fitness. I'd never done that before. I was like, Oh, that looks stupid. Jorge Machin, who's on the 3 Feet Cycling team and works for us at Aristocrat, he's like, “Kevin come out and try it with me. I'll get you in and I'll give you a guest pass and give it a try”. So I went and tried it and really liked it. I've been surprised how much I've enjoyed it and how good it is. I mean, it's different than riding normally, but it's gives you a lot of good different forms of exercise and helping with climbing and sprinting and so on. It's been surprising to me how fun it's been and how useful it's been in off season training.
So do you have any favorite places that you've ridden or any places that you wish you could go ride?
I don't know that I do. I don't know. Well, I like Napa Valley a lot. Visiting there, I've thought that would be kind of fun to ride there. I'm not a big hill guy so I wouldn't ride the mountain. I mean, I know that there's some hill climb type competition or group rides that you can do in that area. But, the Valley itself has got some really nice roads and great scenery and things like that. I think that'd be kind of a fun place to go for a ride at some point. Other than that, I don't know that I have any. I don't have a desire to go and ride a stage of the Tour de France or anything like that. I'd go see the Tour de France and, you know, watch mountain stage or something like that.
What about events? Do you have any favorite events or anything that you look forward to?
Well, I've mentioned Sunflowers to Roses. That's my favorite event largely because of my involvement and our organization's involvement. We've been a sponsor for, I think this might be our 10th year. I always have to kind of go back and look and figure out when we started. IT may be our eighth or ninth year. Dennis Case came to us and said, “Hey, we do this kickoff event every year. And we were wondering if we could, possibly use one of your dealerships to do that.” And we're like, okay, tell us what it is. He told us about what the ride and we worked with our marketing guys and decided to go ahead and do this kickoff event. I like the ride and you know, what's this ride all about? I found out it was related to cancer. It's always been a kind of a big focus for me from a fundraising and charity standpoint that I always like to do.
I enjoy being involved with things that advocate for cancer survivorship or research or whatever. So I liked it too. The combination of the two things - a bike ride and cancer fundraising. So, I got us (as an organization) involved as a sponsor and, got involved with fundraising. Our group, we usually have 15 to 20 riders on our “team” each year. Most of the riders are pretty recreational. It might be the only ride they do every year. But, some of us are more enthusiastic about it. The big thing is raising money. We're the largest fundraising group for Sunflowers to Roses each year. I think our team has raised probably $150,000 over the years that we've been involved. Just us. And not to mention what we do to help promote the ride. And obviously, we do some training rides from our dealerships each year. We liked the involvement with that from the exposure for our organization to the opportunity to get good groups together and have some fun on a Saturday morning bike ride. So, that's my favorite ride to do in the area. That's simply because of our involvement.
I really enjoy a couple of others that I've been doing the last several years. The Tour de Lakes in Lee’s Summit is a really neat ride and it's very well supported. So, you know, recreational ride, they do a real good job and the route is nice and it's something different. I don't ride over and Lees Summit, other than those organized rides. And then the other one I've had a lot of fun with the last few years is the Ride to Boulevard. I think that's kind of a fun ride as well. Get to ride downtown and really kind of all over the middle of the Metro area, so to speak.
Do you have any other comments or anything that you want to ensure gets published?
Not really. I'm happy that the team is really kind of expanding its focus on not just the racing, not just gravel, but all aspects of cycling and really trying to advocate the three feet rule. I think some of the outreach type things that the team's doing this year with wrapping the team trailer with good information, the yard signs that we’re doing, things like that. I'm really happy that we're doing those types of things and really happy to have the organization involved with that and we'll continue to do whatever we can to help promote that.
For additional information about Aristocrat Motors or any of the charities Kevin mentioned, see the links below:
Aristocrat Motors: https://www.aristocratmotors.com
Sleepyhead Beds: https://sleepyheadbeds.org
Kauffman Center for Performing Arts: https://www.kauffmancenter.org
Sunflowers to Roses: https://www.sunflowerstoroses.org