The risk was big. The statistics were against us. A mechanic may be a strong mechanic but can often be a weak businessman. Andrew knows his stuff when it comes to the cars and won’t claim to be a great businessman. He is like one of our son’s favorite books – The Little Engine that Could. Andrew is committed to rise to the summit no matter the effort.
Andrew’s perseverance is largely why he’s built a solid reputation as a knowledgeable mechanic – Andrew won’t rest until he is confident in how to fix it right the first time. A vehicle returning for the same problem is not an option. He won’t have it, and it shows in the miniscule percentage of vehicle come-backs we’ve seen since we opened in 2015.
Our six years of business have been both exciting and challenging. We were told that the first three years are the hardest and if we make it past 5 years we will most likely succeed. In the first year we built a strong client base and structure. The next two years are what make or break you. Maintaining that client base, continuing to improve our structure, stewarding our income well and making a liveable profit kept us moving forward despite encountering many challenges. We continue to grow, but the struggle has been real.
The Little Engine is heralded because, despite being little, he was still able to help the other train up the mountain, but it’s more than that. In my numerous trips winding through the Rocky Mountains’ tight S-curves, the added element of danger became apparent in the signs that say, warn about potential falling rocks. We’ve encountered some falling rocks in our business and family…and some outright rock slides. I am amazed we survived them all.
Our son was born in 2017, and I had planned a three-month maternity leave. However, I developed a serious case of septicemia which left me hospitalized for three weeks and, in my recovery, I wasn’t able to contribute to the shop as planned.
Halfway through 2018, our shop landlord tried to evict nearly all of the tenants in our building. Theyfloundered in their reasoning and eventually we were able to work out a new lease. Rent increased substantially, but our perseverance and commitment to our clients saw us through.
At the end of 2018 our one employee left us suddenly and was a big setback. (Note: If anyone here has let you down at any time, please contact us. We would be happy to listen.)
We had to fill the client services position fast, so in 2019 I had to jump in at a moment’s notice and put our son in early preschool. In the weight of the change (and other challenges shop aside), I began struggling with mental illness, affecting my work. Andrew continued to power through and to be a rock to our family and business.
We are very grateful for the local community we have supporting us, including those who have chosen to trust us with their vehicles. We continue to build relationships with them and do everything we can to care for them well.
A Turn in the Right Direction
We turned a corner in 2020. The road straightened a bit, and the incline wasn’t nearly as harsh.
Andrew and I hired Victoria to take over client services and have really enjoyed working with her. If you haven’t worked with her already, you will be glad when the time comes!
Also, Mike, a dedicated former employee asked to come back on a part-time basis to help grow the business through improving policies, processes and potential areas of expansion.
We’ve never wanted to be a family with two full-time working parents, so I have stepped back to part-time and focus on my strengths in relationship building and communication to build our client base. I’m better able to care for my health and our family. I’ve been a better mom and I’ve been able to support Andrew better as a wife so that he can focus on the shop so that his time is better distributed. Andrew is the chain that binds us all together.
Then COVID-19 came along. We know this hurt everyone – especially small businesses. Thankfully, with auto repair being an essential service, we haven’t really missed a beat. Though stay-at-home order reduced people’s driving habits and business became slow which was worrying. However, as the stay-at-home order was lifted and safety measures have been implemented in public areas, people began driving more and business picked up. We’re making it through!
The Other Side of the Mountain
Despite the challenges we’ve faced, we are committed to continue providing a quality-focused service based on trust, honesty, and fairness. Over the years, we’ve added to the services we can provide in-house. We’ve improved on our business processes and efficiency. You have made it worth the effort by continuing to trust us.
Many people come to us feeling frustrated by past experiences in auto repair. They feel overcharged and undervalued. Andrew and I know that once you find someone with whom you can build trust to meet expectations, to treat you well, and fix your vehicle the right way the first time, you want to be able to go to them for everything. Our goal has been to be that shop that you trust for all of your needs – from oil changes and tires to in depth testing and major repairs.
That’s also why we strive to go beyond just fixing the vehicle by continuing to improve upon our client services. From the first phone call to the repair and maintenance plan, to budgeting, we want you to feel cared for because we care about you.
We have some lofty goals for the future as well. Andrew has been dreaming for years about adding loaner vehicles to our list of services. Hiring another full time mechanic would increase our efficiency and allow Andrew to focus more on improving the business. One day, purchasing our own property would help expand our services. Everything we do goes back to our vision of building trusting relationships through honest communication, quality-focused automotive repair, fairness in practice, and kindness in action.
Despite all of the challenges we’ve faced over the years, we continue to build and grow in a positive direction. Owning a small family business is hard – especially in a rough and tumble industry requiring hard manual labor, automotive smarts, and a society that has a general feeling of mistrust of mechanics. We believe our business is making a positive impact in this industry by taking the road less traveled.
If you recall, the reason the little train needed to get over the mountain was because it carried “dolls and toys and good things for boys and girls to eat.” The Little Engine that Could allowed that to happen. His Good Samaritan-like service benefited many. Just like the train, we’re not just in this for ourselves. We are in it for the greater good.
We have been delighted to build trusting relationships with so many of you who have, in many cases, become friends and a part of our supportive community. It means the world to us when you tell friends and family, “Andrew Marinelli is my mechanic. You should bring your vehicle to his shop!” More than just meeting new clients, we truly appreciate the trust you have in us to send us someone you care about. That’s the kind of business that we’ve set out to run, and we plan to keep traveling that road.
As this year seems to have turned the whole world upside down it can be difficult to easily grasp things that we’re thankful for. However, it is times like these more than any other to stop and grab onto even the littlest things that this year has warranted thanksgiving. That’s why we wanted to share with you what we are thankful for. Maybe it will help you to realize how many things you really can be thankful for this Thanksgiving.
I am one of the fortunate to say that this year has been a blessing in disguise. I was going through some really hard things in 2019 that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. It was the capstone of a steady decline of one hard thing after another. I needed a chance to catch my breath. I wasn’t sure if I could take it anymore. I had some serious health problems that made it hard for me to function at the shop. Andrew was carrying his full load and most of mine. Our son was having a hard time being at school so much, so he was spending a lot of time at the shop during the work day. We were all carrying heavy loads. Then 2020 happened.
Early in the year we were able to hire someone to take over the Client Relations role for me. I was able to narrow my focus on marketing, the part of the shop I really like. When the stay-at-home mandate happened, like a lot of people, I began working from home because my job didn’t require being on site. Besides, our son’s school closed, so I needed to be home anyway. This was a dream for me! This was what I had always wanted – to work from home and care for our son. It was the space I needed to breathe. It was what allowed me to focus on my health, our son, and having a productive role at the shop. So, while there have been many challenges about 2020, even for me, the change in direction was exactly what I needed. I am thankful for my new role working from home. I am thankful for more time with my son. I am thankful for my newfound health.
Victoria’s gratitude comes in a different form. At the end of 2019 she was searching for a job and was in the shop as a client. When I mentioned to her that we were looking to hire, she jumped on the chance. We put her through her paces and hired her mid-February…right before the country shut down. She says, “This past year has been hard, but it has been full of chances to learn and grow. I’m thankful for the Marinelli’s who have not only serviced my car to a high standard, but who have also given me the opportunity to serve their clients.”
On a more personal note, Victoria’s family has been going through a difficult time as her mom fights a rare form of cancer. I can tell you from getting to know her that Victoria holds herself up well even on the hardest of days because she chooses to look on the bright side.
She continues, “I’m thankful to my church and community for coming around me while my mom has been undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. Finally, I’m thankful to the Lord for every day I get to call my mom and have her answer, to wake up and face each new day with hope and with faith.”
Around the time that we hired Victoria, Mike jumped back on board to help take some of the burden off of Andrew as we continue to find ways to grow and improve the business. The timing was fortuitous as we quickly began to navigate changes in operation due to COVID.
Mike currently lives out of town but comes back regularly. With his family being “at risk,” he stayed with us on his visits until the stay-at-home mandate ceased. He says, “Definitely thankful that my family is healthy and safe considering the virus. I’m thankful to be able to help you guys this year.”
Andrew has had a lot on his plate this year. On top of “just” running a business, fixing cars, and serving the people who come through our shop, he’s had to adapt the business to the pandemic while also training a new employee.
Despite this, his gratitude for the year is far reaching, saying, “I’m thankful that we’ve had a stable opportunity to serve people during this chaotic year and that Victoria is motivated to serve the clients and finds it meaningful.”
If anyone deserves a break this holiday season, it’s definitely Andrew. With everything that’s weighing on him at the shop, he also has a family waiting for him at home. Every day it’s his goal to make it home before our son falls asleep and to spend time with me. Most of the time he makes it happen and our hope is that someday it won’t be a race against the clock. Some day he will be able to lock the doors at closing and go right home. In the spirit of seeing improvements in our home life, his gratitude aligns with mine when he says, “I am thankful that Beth has been able to spend more time with Arthur while still contributing to the shop.”
Finally, and I think all four of us can agree with Andrew when he says, “I’m thankful that God is good in both times of joy and times of suffering.”
Finding Thanks in 2020
It has been a rough year for so many people across the world and it may seem like there are few things to be thankful for. I hope that our proclamation of Thanksgiving has helped you to think about what you are thankful for this year.
Maybe the gratitude you expected to evolve as you came into 2020 didn’t come to fruition. Weddings canceled. Memorial services postponed. Family and friends becoming ill. National and world events weighing on you.
For every challenge or disappointment there is something to be thankful for to match it. People who have walked beside you during this time. A change in pace from your usual busy life to spend more time with your family. Time to reflect on what is most important to you. What are you thankful for?
“Screeeeeech” screamed my brakes as I pulled into the parking lot. This is not a sound my car had made before. I had sensed something was off and earlier that week had asked Andrew to take a look at it over the weekend. Now it seemed urgent. I called him immediately to explain what was going on. He gave me sound advice (as he does) and I dropped my car off as soon as I was done with my errand.
You might think that because we own an auto repair shop that we’re immune to stress over car problems. Many times there is just no way around it.
First of all, our cars need maintenance and repairs just like everyone else’s. Being as that we are well in tune with maintenance schedules and preventative care, we are pretty wise about what our vehicles need and when. Our goal is always to educate our clients so that they have the same level of empowerment in servicing their vehicles, but with the added benefit of being updated whenever you schedule for service.
Secondly, our vehicle’s can develop surprises just like any other vehicle no matter how diligent we are in staying ahead of maintenance and repairs. We have the same challenge of figuring out transportation while our vehicle is in the shop. This, just like you, is more challenging when it’s a surprise that our busy schedule can’t really accommodate.
Plus, we don’t get cuts in line just because we own the repair shop. In fact, we reserve working on our personal vehicles for after shop hours so that we can continue to serve our clients well. Just like you, it’s even more challenging when it’s a complex repair and we’re down a vehicle while it gets tended to.
Then, there is the financial aspect of maintaining a vehicle. While we don’t pay ourselves for labor (because that’s obviously redundant), we still have parts costs. We still have to budget for vehicle repairs and, like you, money can be tight at times and stressful if it’s not a repair we were expecting.
Finally, the time for the repair needs to come from somewhere and it’s time that we’re not getting paid for. For us, as I previously mentioned, this means Andrew staying after hours or working more on the weekend to work on our personal vehicle.
Advantages of Owning an Auto Repair Shop
Are there advantages to owning a repair shop? Sure! We don’t have to pay labor or parts mark-up. When my vehicle makes a noise or isn’t handling quite right, I am better able to relay the relevant information to Andrew because of the time I’ve spent talking clients through their vehicle’s symptoms. Information is valuable in getting down to the bottom of the problem in a timely manner.
I am also more aware of whether or not it’s an urgent issue or something that I can keep my eye on. When I go home at night I can discuss it with Andrew. After being around the industry since before we opened the shop, I am more easily able to understand what he’s telling me. I am used to taking what he finds and explaining that to clients, so I generally don’t have a lot of questions..
However, I can still relate to you when you come in stressed about your vehicle, your schedule, finding alternate transportation, and your budget. I experience all of those things, too. Much of the time I need clarification about whether or not what I’m experiencing is urgent. This helps me to better understand what you are experiencing when you have an unexpected concern over your car.
When it comes down to it, we’re all human and vehicle’s are a man-made object. Very few of us are experts about this valuable piece of machinery we rely on to get us where we need to go. We can only be so proactive about vehicle maintenance and repairs no matter how much we know or don’t know.
After hearing that awful noise it didn’t take long for Andrew to get my vehicle up on the lift and see that the vehicle was due for new brake pads. Just like any client, he didn’t hesitate to take care of this safety issue so that I could get back into my vehicle.
I don’t know about you, but I’m glad I have such an attentive mechanic to take care of the vehicle I drive on a daily basis. If you don’t, I highly recommend finding one!
“Daddy!” the boy squeals as he flies into the shop, wrapping his arms around his father’s legs.
“Arthur boy!” his father exclaims.
“Walk, please!” his mother warns…for the millionth time.
“Can we do shop time, Daddy,” Arthur asks.
“That sounds great! Beth, is it ok with you if we have shop time after we close today?” Andrew asks with the “you know it will be good for him” look in his eyes.
Looking forward to getting the boy home, I respond with exhausted elongated words – “Yeah, that’s fine.”
But it is good for our now 3 year old son. And it’s good for Andrew to be able to share that special time with him. It’s certainly a benefit when your dad owns an auto repair shop. It’s a unique experience that few other kids his age enjoy.
If you have been a client for any amount of time, you have recognized that Andrew is a good teacher. That’s one benefit of his music education degree and he applies this with our son, especially during their Shop Time.
What Do They Do?
Arthur is always interested in what Andrew is up to and does his best to emulate him.
Arthur loves to help out around the shop and Andrew loves to give him practical jobs.
Learning opportunities abound at the shop!
With Andrew’s degree in music education and Arthur’s interests in everything music and everything in Daddy’s shop, this was a big hit! This is just a short clip of the beginning of their music exploration around the shop.
Finding out how things work around the shop can take a lot of different forms, but this is one of the most fun to date. I think Central Florida amusement parks have a rival!
These are just a few examples of the fun Andrew and Arthur have during their shop time. Many of them, I haven’t been around for. They will look for little treasures that Arthur can hide away in his pockets, do an oil change together, or just explore how different tools work. Arthur has been around the shop since his birth and is now capable of being helpful with small tasks. He truly completes our family business.
What a treasure trove of learning for a little boy!
As we watched from the other side of the world, we sent our “thoughts and prayers” to China as COVID-19 swept their nation this past December and into the new year. I, like many, thought, “Oh, that’s sad,” then moved on with our daily lives as the news drifted in and out of our fast paced lives. The virus quickly travelled west as Europe started putting up red flags – Italy getting hit especially hard. Various international business and parenting Facebook groups that I follow cried out as they were quarantined in their homes with their family – children especially going stir-crazy. These virtual group members supported them and offered ideas for passing the time and expending pent-up energy.
March greeted us and the deadly virus was no longer on the other side of the world. It was in our backyard. Before we knew it, the Coronavirus lingered by our front door as it haunted our every move. We began to argue about it’s severity, about precautions, and whether the media is fear mongering.
Then reality hit. Schools, businesses, the entire entertainment industry – including the American’s beloved national and collegiate sports teams – shut down. Now so many of us, if we’re blessed enough to still have a paying job, are working from home – myself included.
Our kids are also at home because childcare and/or schools are closed (again, our family is no exception), which poses a conflict. How can I be productive working from home when my kids are home? You’re probably also asking, since my kids are not in school, how do I keep them engaged in academic activities so that they don’t fall behind once schools open again?
Social media has allowed these families to come together and support each other in schooling their children at home. Teachers have piped up and offered assistance. Many of these families have never considered homeschooling and never had the opportunity to learn how to teach a child, much less actually do it. Adding the need to be productive with your own work, this has been a major challenge for most families in the U.S.
I feel modestly prepared to take on this task with my preschooler. Our life has not had a “normal” routine since he was born more than 3 years ago. I have never really “left” my job; I’ve switched back and forth between working from home and working at the shop. I’ve had to work full-time for the past 18 months while still having our son around for a good portion of the day. I’m fortunate that Andrew and I both have education degrees, tons of experience with kids, and come from families full of teachers. My mom and mother-in-law have especially been helpful, having decades of experience teaching preschool – elementary school children.
In the time I’ve wandered back and forth between working from home and working at the shop with a toddler in my care, I’ve learned some great lessons that have made this full-time working and schooling from home a reasonably smooth transition.
1. Create a routine and stick to it
Think about what a normal routine was like for your child when they were in school and/or childcare. Write out that hourly routine and consider how you might replicate that at home. Just like you have a normal routine for your work-day, they also have a school-day routine that keeps them grounded and productive.
Older children may have been sent schoolwork packages to keep them on track with each subject in their curriculum, but what about electives and extra-curriculars? How many times a day did they have recess? Did they have a set reading or study time? What time did they eat lunch? What time did they get to school/come home from school?
Like the older children, keep babies’ and toddlers’ snacks, lunches, and quiet times on a similar time schedule. Just because they don’t get tested or graded, doesn’t mean you should usurp learning activities. Keeping their minds engaged and challenged both keeps them occupied, learning and growing. Occupying them in something meaningful may allow you some precious moments to focus on your work while they’re occupied.
The big difference for the younger kids is that their attention span is much shorter and they are less independent in learning tasks. Where you may be able to block out an hour for a 10-year old to engage independently in an activity or two (45 minutes engaged activity, plus instruction and wrap-up), I suggest keeping younger kids’ focused learning activities to a 30 minute time-slot (15-20 minutes engaged activity, plus instruction and wrap-up). Fill in gaps between structured learning with free play – playing is learning!
Believe it or not, kids actually thrive on order and routine, especially when things get a little out of whack. They might resist at first, but stay the course and be consistent. Provide this daily security during such an uncertain time.
2. Prioritize school routines and weave work throughout
I know that you are doing your best to get the same amount of work done at home as you do in the office. With kids around, that is unlikely to happen (sorry!). However, you can set a new work pace and accomplish realistic goals if you are wise in how you manage your time.
First of all, if you have two parents working from home at the same time (bonus!), you are more likely to be successful in your work goals if you coordinate responsibilities. Take turns in teaching and learning times with the kids. Figure out which subjects you each thrive in and divide them up. When one parent is with the kids, the other parent gets uninterrupted work time. If you plan well, even the parent working with the kids can sneak in some work while the children are focused on a task.
Secondly, plan your childrens’ schedule first, then sort out where you can fit your work priorities in that framework and what work tasks are best to do when. If you try to work your kids’ schedule around your work priorities, you are going to feel frustrated and agitated by your kids’ need for attention and end up spinning your wheels. On the other hand, if they are content and engaged in their work, you can manage your own time accordingly. For example, if my son is working on an art project, I know that I need to keep my attention on him, lest paint get all over my whole house, but I can probably be checking and responding to email during that time. I save my focused projects for when he’s engaged in play (i.e. play dough works miracles!) or napping.
Finally, if there’s absolutely no way around needing some focused work time (i.e. you have a scheduled phone or video conference), don’t feel bad about a little extra TV time in the middle of the day. Find something that everyone agrees on and that, if possible, would be intellectually challenging for the kids. Afterwards, have a conversation with them about a moral or ethical conflict between characters or the good or poor choices a character made. I’ve been known to do this after my 3-year-old has watched the movie Cars for the thousandth time (Wow, Lightning McQueen was truly a selfish jerk until he met the folks in Radiator Springs!).
3. Involve the whole family in the process.
I already mentioned having mom and dad trade teaching time if possible. If you have children of multiple ages, you can also involve the older children in helping to teach the younger children. Not only does it give you some extra space, but it’s actually really beneficial to the kids. The older kids get to reinforce and feel confident in what they already know. The younger kids learn to trust their older siblings and establish a positive bond in their relationship with them.
Make this uncharted adventure a group process – for older kids, have them share what their daily schedule is like and work together as a family to develop your “new for now” routine. For younger kids, get to know what their favorite part of their school day is and prioritize that in your schedule.
Take time to find out what your children want to learn about. Find times where you can all work and learn together about a subject that interests one of the kids and continue to take turns. You can also look at what they’ve been learning at school and make it a group project for the whole family. Get creative and make it enjoyable for everyone.
4. Use the resources you have around you.
If you don’t have a set curriculum, work sent home by your child’s teacher, or your child is bored and/or getting done with their work too quickly, you might need to come up with some additional material. Or, if they are being overly challenged and getting stuck, they may need some assistance. With younger preschool or kindergarten age children, you may not have much teaching content to go off of. Parents, I’m here to encourage you that you are not in this alone.
I know that many teachers are concerned about kids around the country who are not going to be able to keep up with learning and want to help. Reach out to friends and family to see if they know anyone who is certified in your child’s learning level who might be able to tutor them virtually. Reach out to your child’s school to find out what resources they have available to families. Even my son’s preschool is providing resources and help to keep their kids learning, growing, and connected with their friends from school.
For younger children, like mine, you may feel like you are starting from scratch. Consider where they are developmentally, the kinds of work that was sent home from school in the past months (i.e. Were they going through letters in a certain order? Colors? Shapes? Reading a certain type of stories?) and replicate some of those activities – practice makes perfect and they won’t get bored doing the same activities a few times. If they have a favorite, let them keep doing it and find ways you can change it up every so often. Even taking more time each day to read to them, play with your child’s toys together, or involving them in activities at home (my son LOVES baking and cooking – we talk about amounts, texture, temperature, etc and it usually becomes a science lesson of sorts).
Finally, there are tons of amazing resources out there. One that I love for children from infancy through grade school is Dad Lab (Google it! – there’s a book, a YouTube Channel, Instagram, Facebook group, etc) which has tons of great ideas. Take a subject that interests your child (Arthur is really into space right now) so we use that interest and incorporate letter sounds of the planets, simple math, colors, etc to supplement his learning. We go online and watch videos about planets and look for images to talk about.
Embrace the now
As the old adage goes, use this time to make lemons into lemonade. It’s incredibly difficult to turn on the news or Google “COVID-19” and not wrap your mind around that fact that this is not a Stephen King novel that we’re living – it’s real life. Our kids don’t need to hold onto that fear any more than we do. You may even have a friend or a family member who is ill with this virus or has succumbed to its horror. Andrew encourages me repeatedly to take one day at a time. Today, embrace the time you get to be home with your children.
Remember the first day you put them into child care or their first day of school and the ambivalent pull of emotions that made you burst with pride and mourn the parting all at the same time (you, too, dads!). Hold onto these moments that you get to be together. When your child is resisting the school lesson or you are pulling your hair out because you can’t concentrate on your work proposal, just stop. Stop and take a breath and remember that you are all in this together. Take a break from what you are doing and find something fun to do as a family.
These circumstances won’t be with us forever. Just like how the country found a new normal after 9/11, we will find a new normal once schools and workplaces are open again and life will – and must – go on for the survivors.