Federal Way Licensing Services has moved locations after 20 years.
The 40-year-old business, which Jan Novak and family took over from her father in 2015, will now share a parking lot with Billy McHale’s, ILoveKickboxing and CosmoProf, among other businesses near Celebration Park.
The a sub-agent private business provides vehicle and vessel licensing services on behalf of the county and state.
Previously on South 327th Street off of Pacific Highway South, Novak said the business made the move because the former location’s area was “the pits.”
“We’d been there since 1995, and the area itself was just very depleted,” she said. “I got tired of vandalism, got tired of needles on my doorstep and crap in the back yard. I mean, it was horrible.”
Novak said she could have put money into upgrading that building but that wouldn’t have improved the area.
With the new location, at 1320 S. 324th St, Suite A102, came a remodel and special area for people to schedule appointments, a new feature that is “not heard of in this industry,” Novak said.
“That’ll be a wonderful thing, to be able to provide appointments,” she said. “We also have a very high volume of Internet pick-ups.”
After acquiring the business in 2015, Novak also hired one full-time certified clerk. Her operation includes 10 full-time employees.
Novak said she’s responsible for staffing, hiring and training, but her business isn’t really hers.
“It’s a difficult business model because we don’t actually own these businesses,” she said. “It’s a risk to the person who is running and owning this because you don’t really own it. You walk like a duck, talk like a duck, but you’re not the duck.”
Federal Way Licensing collects all fees from the state but only makes $5 on non-title applications or $12 on title applications. Because of this, it’s a widespread mispercption that running a business like this is highly profitable.
“We have to go through the Legislature to get a fee increase,” she said, noting there is a bill in the Legislature this season for that request. “It’s been 2010 since we’ve had a fee increase, so it’d be like you not getting a raise since 2010 and living in today’s environment. It’s kind of crazy.”
Of the 139 sub-agents in Washington state, Novak said the businesses generated $600 million in revenue last year, but less than 10 percent of that went to the businesses.
So if the businesses aren’t privately owned and don’t make a lot of money, why do it?
Novak said it’s because of her dad.
“[George Cohee] was very community oriented,” Novak said. “He’s been involved in Lions and the Chamber, the insurance, that’s his whole life he’s been involved. He was the association’s founder, the Washington Association of Vehicle Sub-agents. He was the founding father.”
Novak said while she was in high school at Thomas Jefferson High School, she remembers watching her father go to Olympia to convince legislators not to close down the businesses.
At that time, the business was located inside Cohee’s insurance office in the former Century Square Shopping Center. Cohee opened it in 1976.
Novak worked in the licensing office during high school before she got married, moved to California and returned in the early 1990s. She came back to the business in 1999 after her father indicated it was time to start “grooming her properly” so he could retire.
Cohee finally retired in 2015 after Novak was executive director for 13 years, but because of the way it’s set up, Cohee had to resign his business and open up a bid to the public on who would take over. Luckily, Novak, her husband and two daughters stepped up to the plate and crafted a bid proposal that allowed them to gain the rights to become the official appointees. With new ownership came a new name, as the business was formerly named Federal Way Auto Licensing.
“It’s probably the nicest licensing office in the state really,” Cohee said. “It’s really nice and designed to accommodate our customers.”
For more information on the store hours or services Federal Way Licensing provides, visit fwtabs.com.