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After 43 years, it was the people — not the repairs — I always cherished most

Editor’s note: Paul E. Grech owned the former San Franciso shop, Allied Engine & Auto Repair, before retiring. In this column series, Grech shares his experiences as a shop owner.

I had been in business for a year and was doing very well financially when I learned how pick out a good customer from one that would turn into tiger when it came time to pay the bill.

It was something I picked up from the salesmen who called on me to sell me automotive products — every one of them would tell me a joke or funny story. I had this one particular customer where humor worked really well with him.

Paul E. Grech

My father, who was a retired butcher and was working with me at the time, told me he once came into his butcher shop and said, in a big booming voice, “Hey Butch, give me a pound of hamburger and keep your thumb off of the scale.” 

This customer was a very tall man, who always wore an overcoat and a hat, with an intimidating presence, but I would soon find out he was just a very big teddy bear.

I had just bought a new Sun Tune Up machine in 1975, which had a big console and looked impressive. Shortly thereafter, he came in with his pristine Studebaker Lark. He stepped out of the car and noticed my new piece of equipment sitting there.

“What’s this, a new way to rip the people off”?

“No, Gordon,” I said, “I can see into the future with this machine.”

I had him bring his car in and I hooked it up and turned it on. He studied all the lines on its screen and told me it looked like a heart diagnostic machine. There were eight vertical lines on display and one line was taller than the others, which I pointed out to him.

“That line,” I said, “is telling me that in the very near future I am going to come into a whole lot of your money.”

It was the beginning of a long and happy relationship. Many years later, he came in at Christmas time and gave me a bottle of booze as a gift. He then said his wife was in the car and she wanted to wish me a Merry Christmas. I walked up to the car and extended my hand, which she grabbed and pulled me in and gave me a kiss.

“I said she wants to wish you a Merry Christmas,” he bellowed, “not seduce you on the front seat.” 

This was the type of relationship I formed with most of my customers. This interaction not only made their cars feel and run good but them as well. Later on, my wife came to work with me full time and my customers’ experiences with my shop became even more enjoyable. I found that many of my women customers liked talking to another woman about their vehicles.

It’s those stories and people that made my 43 years at Allied so enjoyable. I hope your customer relationships are just as special.              

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