By Adam Randall
The owners of Kalamazoo’s Hometown Automotive are six months into their new venture, in their mid-50s and have had a variety of experiences over a lifetime. The two men are bringing those experiences to their new automotive repair shop in hopes of serving a common type of customer: Those with a low IQ in auto mechanics.
“We heard so many stories of woman who leave an automotive repair facility, spent $1,200 and they don’t really know what’s happened,” said Phil Weinreich. “When somebody leaves our facility, no matter who they are, they’re going to know what’s been done and why. And the old parts are going to be shown to them so they understand what is bad.”
Located on the outskirts of Kalamazoo, at 5317 E. Michigan Avenue, the shop has no fancy neon sign out front, nor is it a business built around expensive advertising. The roads to the shop are quiet, lined with trees, and the shop is a pole-barn structure atop a small hill, nestled among homes. Customers who find their way there will be greeted by Weinreich and co-owner Carl Meisel — and by the buzzing of overhead heaters. The shop doesn’t have a waiting room; instead, customers at Hometown have the opportunity to watch their cars being worked on and ask questions with the technician every step of the way.
Weinreich, who was a regional tech support for Konica Minolta, also had worked for Western Automotive for 12 years. Meisel was a manager at Target but also has an automotive background.
“We both had great jobs,” Weinreich said. “We both made great money, but we wanted to work for ourselves, something in the service industry.”
Weinreich explained that he and Meisel, who had a collection of automotive repair equipment, finally just decided that it was the right time.
“It took us about two years to find a building in the area where we thought we would do well and where the building would suffice and we could afford it.”
In addition to opening a business from scratch, both Weinreich and Meisel wanted to build a customer base from those who have been cheated in automotive repair in the past, as Weinreich himself had been at an early age.
“When I was around 19-20 years old a dealership ripped me off pretty bad,” said Weinreich. “And I think it’s terrible. It’s just as bad as anybody else stealing. If somebody has a question, we do our best to answer it straightforward.”
The ideal customer target for Hometown: “Woman who had been ripped off,” Weinreich said.
Weinreich says the business is making money but could always do better. “From what other people have told us we’re doing fantastic for a startup. We’re paying our bills, we don’t owe a lot of money,” he said. “We’re really pleased and the people that we’ve been able to help seem to be our customers for life, they come back and they send other people to us. We figure another six months of business, we will be so busy we will have to hire people to help.”
However, Weinreich and Meisel would rather keep the business small than to expand. The one thing they hope to add in the future is someone who can clean-up and do oil changes, maybe by offering an internship. A master mechanic on hand assists the owners with difficult automotive decisions.
“We are interested in making enough money to eat, and being able to bring our own cars in after work and work on them, and pay our bills and keep the creditors at the door, we don’t care about making a whole lot of money here,” Weinreich said.
Even though there are several competitors in the area, the owners of Hometown Automotive figure that leaving a lasting impression will be enough to build a reputation within the community.
“We actually work with some of the other shops in the area,” Weinreich said. “There’s one that has a front end alignment machine, we don’t, so we send that customer to him and if he has someone that needs something done and they don’t have time, they will send that person to us. We’re trying to work with them not against them.”
Both owners are classic car enthusiasts and belong to the Kalamazoo Antique Auto Restorers Club. Weinreich and his wife also own several classic cars, including a 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 and a 1972 Chevelle SS, which has won awards.
While it was nerve-wracking quitting a career for a new one, Weinreich explained that it was the right time to make a change.
“We have to budget, but it’s OK because it’s our place. We can do it right and it makes both of us happy.”