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Rural auto repair shop thrives by expanding services, providing exceptional quality

Friday, May 4, 2018 - 07:00
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Urban and rural markets have distinctly different conditions in which repair shops can thrive, and nowhere is this more evident than Mears Service Center. Located on Michigan’s west coast, there are pretty much just two economic engines in the region: agriculture and tourism. Gary Beggs founded the shop for one market, expanded into others, and achieved a level of quality that would work anywhere.

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All photos courtesy of Christine K Photography

The town of Mears is a small, unincorporated community near the base of the mountainous Silver Lake Sand Dunes, part of the largest freshwater dune system in the world, located along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. “Silver Lake Sand Dunes are a big recreational vehicle area, so in the summertime the population explodes around here,” notes Tim Beggs, Gary’s son and a co-owner of the business.  

At a Glance:
Mears Service Center
Mears, Mich.
Location
Gary and Linda Beggs, Tim Beggs
Owners
1
No. of shops
29
Years in business
11
Total no. of employees
6,000
Square footage of shop
7
No. of bays
55
No. of customer vehicles per week
$1.5 million
Annual gross revenue

Besides the tourists, there’s the ‘snowbird’ phenomenon unique to the northern U.S.: older residents who head to warmer climates in the winter and return in the summer. Add in farmers gearing up their growing season, and the shop stays very busy. “Word has gotten out about us being an honest, dependable, reliable shop that knows what they’re doing,” Beggs reports. “Things have shifted from the agricultural/heavy duty market to having everybody else realizing we can get the job done, so they started bringing us their everyday vehicles as well.” 

Gary Beggs opened what was originally called Mears Truck and Tractor in 1988 after working on heavy-duty vehicles for the local road commission. But things evolved and automotive work took hold, becoming a mainstay. “We don’t track our ratios scientifically,” Tim muses, “but I’d say it’s probably 75 percent light duty, 25 percent heavy duty/agricultural, and it’s been that for probably the last 15 years or so. 

Owners Linda and Gary Beggs

“If we don’t give our customers an excuse to go somewhere else, they probably won’t,” he explains. “So our philosophy’s always been we work on just about everything.” This means running the gamut from big diesel tractors to gas-powered dune buggies, and maintaining the databases and training to cover them. 

“One (drawback) of living in a rural area is that most of our training classes are an hour to an hour and half drive one way,” concedes Beggs. “We try hard to get to them, but it’s difficult. We’re a NAPA AutoCare Center, so they have a number of classes, as do some dealers in the region. Aside from that, a lot of our training is just on the job. Thank goodness for the internet; we scour the web, use iATN, Identifix, ProDemand. Sometimes we take a diagnosis on the chin and chalk it up as a learning experience. 

“We’ll find the solution, it’s just going to take us more hours than we can bill for,” Beggs continues. “We have a don’t-quit attitude— we generally get things figured out and squared away for the customers. Plus it takes us down the road; when we face a similar vehicle, we’re familiar with the system and can diagnose it better as we go.” 

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After covering the repair market, the Beggs moved into retail. “We’re a dealer for Branson Tractors, Rhino Ag Equipment, Country Clipper Zero Turn Mowers, Bercomac tractor accessories, Peco Lawn Vacs, BOSS snow plows, as well as other short line equipment,” recites Tim. “We’ve been selling snow plows for 20-plus years, but the tractors and mowers are a new addition within the last three to four years, so we’ve added an office person to track parts and inventory. Prior to that it was pretty much me and my dad running the office.” 

For his part, Tim Beggs grew up in the business — in this case almost literally, since the family’s home is on the same property as the shop. “I started working here when I was about 10 years old, cleaning toilets and mowing grass,” he laughs. “All through middle school and high school, during summer and spring breaks, after school, I was down here sweeping floors, pumping brake pedals, changing tires, changing oil. As time went on I started doing actual repairs.” 

After graduation he went to trade school, but also to college to earn a bachelor’s in a different field. “I stepped away from the business for two years” Beggs relates. “But I found out my heart really is in automotive repair and came back; that was about eight years ago. I started back as a technician, became shop foreman, then manager.” 

Under his stewardship the shop recently went through its third addition, and through it all Beggs’ has to maintain their high standard of quality. “It really just comes down to our name being on the business — my dad’s and mine — so we ensure that our technicians are doing a good job. We take care of the customer, and the customer takes care of the rest of it, passing on their good experience to others, word-of-mouth.”

And though their marketing may be old school, Mears Service Center thoroughly embraces technology. “One of the biggest steps we took was hooking up with AutoVitals for their digital inspections and paperless back shop,” says Beggs. “Going from scribbling on greasy paper to a tablet-based communication system between the front shop and the back shop has probably been the catalyst to improving our efficiency. 

“Every technician has a laptop on their toolbox and a tablet in hand which gives them all the information they need to repair a vehicle,” he outlines, “from what the sold jobs are, to what parts are to be hung on the car, to torque specs and tire pressures. And this has launched us into a refining process. 

“We are a family-run shop, and we’ve been pretty loose, so we’re working on putting shop policies into writing so our guys have a clear understanding of expectations. That’s becoming more and more important as we have more employees now than we’ve ever had,” Beggs states. “And improving our processes makes it even more exciting, becoming more effective and efficient, fine-tuning the business for our employees and customers.”

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