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On the Road Again

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On the Road Again

I think I’ve mentioned it before, but if I haven’t: I’m an independent repair shop junkie!

I love the way auto repair shops feel. I love the sound of a busy shop. And, yes, I love the scent. But, most of all, I love the atmosphere: the aura the ambiance, the people. I understand that, like restaurants, all shops are different.

In fact, I think it’s these very fine differences that have me hooked. It’s not just the “big” or “great” or “well known” shops that have me addicted. It’s just about all shops: large and small, struggling and successful, customer-focused or transactional.

It’s these differences I find fascinating and that’s been the case for a very long time. What’s most interesting is the transition I’ve experienced: a transition I can trace back almost 40 years when my father and I decided to abandon the service station segment of the repair community and open our own independent repair shop.

However, when it came time to open our own shop, it became apparent that our due diligence would have to include a pretty exhaustive look at shops like the one we envisioned creating.

If not understandable, it was certainly inevitable. We spent the better part of a year and a half driving all over Southern California to see what other shop owners had done. The result has been a lifelong love affair with design, layout, equipment and appearance that has drawn me into shops across the country and in the process, driven my wife insane, at times (that’s an incredible understatement).

Nevertheless, things have changed over the past few months. I’m not in and out of as many shops as was previously the case. In fact, apart from a recent road trip and a few stops along the way, I haven’t visited many shops at all. That was, until a recent trip to Hudson River Valley and an involuntary and unscheduled stop there.

It may sound strange, but I may be one of the few shop owners who actually looks forward to just about anything that would force me into a repair shop just about anywhere. For me, it’s the perfect excuse to visit a shop without my wife rolling her eyes and mumbling, “Not again…”

So, despite the anxiety that naturally accompanies not knowing exactly what was wrong with the right rear tire on the rental I was driving, I was actually excited when the TPMS warning lamp Illuminated and it became apparent I was headed for another shop visit!

That sounds better than it turned out to be, however. First, because there were only two shops I could find that were even remotely close to where we were, and, second, because of what followed.

I don’t know about you, but when I pull down the driveway of another shop, I’m looking at everything: ease of entry, clearly identified parking and clear, legible signage. I’m scanning the office, the counter and the service bays. I want to see how the shop is laid out, just as much as I’m monitoring how I’m greeted.

The first shop was new and part of a chain. It was a six bay-unit, with the end bay completely filled with junk. There was only one vehicle racked and in the air. The young man at the counter greeted me cordially enough, but didn’t waste any time letting me know he was short-handed, with only tech on the floor and would not be able to help me beyond putting a couple of pounds of air in the tire.

That constituted the entire extent of our conversation. “Is there anywhere else I can go for help?” I asked. “Nope! Around here, we’re it.”

Now, I had noticed a sign identifying an independent shop located down a long driveway and off the street as we entered the town. It was a more traditional-looking shop: not as new, not nearly as clean, not as well laid out.

What it was, however, was busy, inviting, accommodating and helpful—everything you would want a shop to be if you were stuck on the road.

They pulled the vehicle in immediately, removed the wheel and completely checked the tire for leaks. They checked and filled all the tires to the manufacturer’s recommendations, reset the TPMS and because they couldn’t find anything, chose not to charge me!

Two shops, one with everything in the world going for it—except interest and genuine concern—and the other more traditional in almost every sense of the word, including exceptional customer service!

One was a shiny new restaurant without a cook, and the other was a weathered, familiar, family-style roadside diner with great food and a terrific wait staff. One had one car, one tech and one guy at the counter. The other was incredibly warm and welcoming, fully staffed and filled with work. Sometimes the secret sauce isn’t much of a secret at all. Sometimes, it’s just attitude!

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