By SHILANDA WOOLRIDGE
Twin Brothers Auto Glass replaces broken mirrors, Celica Salon fixes a dead clutch, and International Auto Body unfurls the bumper that was turned into an accordion after a fender bender.
In two short blocks—from 16th to 18th streets on Capp Street—seven auto-repair businesses co-exist by cultivating their own customer bases and lending a helping hand to their competitors.
“In one day [customers] can do whatever they need on their car,” said Twin Brothers owner Victor Perez. “I think that’s a good thing.”
The auto repair industry isn’t recession-proof, and a few shops have made cuts. But instead of creating an environment of increased competition, many of the shops choose to cooperate.
For the last two years Twin Brothers at the corner of Capp and 18th Street has installed auto glass, tinted windows, car stereos, alarm systems, and speakers. If a customer needs body work Perez refers them to International Auto Body next door to Celica Salon. Celica Salon’s office manager, Thelma Sanchez, gladly sends customers down to Twin Brothers if they need a busted window fixed or a stereo installed.
The shops south of 18th Street have also formed informal alliances.
“We’re neighborly with Shan Auto,” said Thomas Bonelli, one of three owners of Auto Lab. “If they’re out and a package comes in we’ll hold it for them. They send us referrals. If we’re overloaded we’ll send somebody to them. We also work with Creative Auto across the street.
“The auto industry is a dirty business. I’m a God-fearing man and if I can’t come by business honestly I don’t want it.”
Auto Lab specializes in auto diagnostics and general repair. They moved from South Van Ness to their current location at 274 Capp five years ago because they wanted a bigger workspace. Bonelli and his partners weren’t worried about the built-in competition.
“We brought our own following. The only thing we were concerned about was would our customers be able to find us since we were in a different location,” he said.
Bonelli’s next-door neighbor Phil Gee, co-owner of Shan Auto, is equally nonplussed about competing with his neighbors. They focus on imports and have been at 272 Capp for 10 years. Before that they owned a gas station that did car repairs at 14th and Mission streets.
“We don’t pay any attention to competing. We’ve had the same customers for 15-20 years. I don’t look for new customers, but we welcome new ones,” said Gee.
A dedicated customer base contributes largely to the relaxed laissez-faire, or better yet, puede hacer attitude prevalent among the auto shops on Capp Street. The sidewalks were free of sign-holding barkers waving to oncoming cars, and only Celica Salon and Twin Brothers had A-frames out front that faced traffic.
While the auto shops were unconcerned about each other, some worried about the recession.
“I had a secretary when the economy was good, but now I have to do everything,” said Perez. He was seated at the front desk ready to greet new customers while two employees tested a stereo installation by pumping up the volume.
Perez had three employees, but had to downsize to two. The third employee is on call in case he gets busy. Celica Salon was faced with a similar choice. They had three mechanics and laid off one who remains on call but likes to hang around the shop anyway.
Shan Auto’s reluctance to advertise, Gee said, helps them avoid recession woes.
“If we advertise we’ll be nuts because we don’t have the manpower. It’s just my brother and me. We’re partners and we don’t hire anybody. There’s nobody to lay off,” said Gee.
Sometimes the only way to tackle the recession is with a personal touch.
“My last customer, I gave him a good price and he didn’t have enough money. He needed another $10-$15 dollars off. I said ok,” said Perez who smiled and shrugged his shoulders, “I could do it. I’ll get more business later, no?”
The Internet often plays a role as a silent partner for some of the shops and complements their reluctance to compete.
But for any business, Bonelli said, surviving gets down to the basics.
“Somebody told me a long time ago [that] when you know you’re good at what you do, you don’t have to display an ego because the work speaks for itself.”