By William P. Thompson
Doug’s Garage in Portales has been operating since the early 1980’s without offering customers flashy deals or promises to attract the customer. The shop operates in a simple, straight-forward manner.
The auto shop’s owner, Doug Frank, said most of the time he tells the customers, many of them regulars, to leave the car for a day or two or however long it takes, but the customer can count on one thing— the car will be fixed when it leaves the shop.
“We don’t do promotions. We don’t advertise. It’s all word of mouth,” Frank said. “We try to treat the customer the way we would want to be treated. We take the time to explain the repair and show anything we do. When the customers go out of here they know they are not going to have to come back again (for the same problem).”
Frank began working on cars in the early 1960’s in Illinois. He learned on the job and said hands-on training is still the way to go.
“The ones who come out of the college (automotive repair) courses don’t know much,” Frank said. “I always tell employees to go back to the basics. You need to know the vehicle and how things work. The first step is to listen to the car and drive the car down the road and listen to it.”
Frank said honesty is key in keeping motorists satisfied. He said he knows there are mechanics in the auto repair industry who take advantage of unwary customers and he said there are mechanics who rely too heavily on computerized diagnostic machines which can also lead to a customer paying for more than is needed.
“A machine can give you an indication of what’s wrong,” Frank said. “A number of parts (in the car) could be replaced costing $500 to $600, but a dependable mechanic might find out that all that is needed is a new vacuum hose that costs about a dollar. With years of experience, you don’t have to hook up a machine to the car.”
Frank said he can’t guarantee that you’ll pay less for service at his shop, but you’ll know that you’re getting the right thing fixed, and although Frank won’t guarantee that he’ll get a car fixed in a jiffy, he said he will make every effort. Especially for emergencies and people traveling through who are basically at his mercy.
“Saturday we got a call at 10 a.m. from someone saying their van wouldn’t start,” Frank said. “They said they needed to be at a funeral in Roswell that afternoon. We had them going in time to get to the funeral.”
Frank said time-saving oil and lube businesses have their place in the fast-paced modern world, but he still thinks people would be better off going to a traditional shop.
“Ten minutes is not enough time to check everything and do it right,” he said. “We check everything including the tires.”
Frank said he’s a little baffled when people go looking for a shop that offers the best price rather than sticking with a dependable mechanic. Still, a big chunk of his customers have been coming to him for years. Randy Dunson, a repeat customer, brought his mini-van to the shop recently.
Dunson said the van was in by 9 a.m. and out by 3 p.m. the same day for a repair on the cooling system and new lug nuts.
“They fix it and they fix it right,” Dunson said. “I’ve been here about a dozen times over the years. I brought in a Ford once that had intermittent trouble. Doug said he couldn’t find the problem because it wasn’t acting up while it was in the shop. Still, I wasn’t charged for anything.
Recently at the shop three cars were being worked on and six more were out back waiting to be looked at and listened to. It’s a little slow going at times because Frank said he’s a little short on help. One of his sons is helping him out these days.
His wife Mary said the father and son team will often joke with customers.
“They’ll do things like tell the customer that their repairs will cost $700 when it only costs about $30,” she said. “They’re always joking like that.”
Frank said he enjoys encountering new repair problems with cars in his shop and proving to himself that he can master the mysteries of an automobile’s inner workings.
“I just love the challenge of fixing them,” he said.