As part of our 40th anniversary in October, we thought it would be nice to take a look back at part of our history. Lowell wrote the following retrospective in 2008 – mere months before I bought lowell’s from him. Lowell relates how we got started, how we ended up on Mechanic Street, and how we came to specialize in Toyotas.
Next month, I’ll the story of how I came to lowell’s. Enjoy! – Rob
In 1979, I was a contented service manager at Muncie Buick in Winchester. I was paid well, had a new Buick to drive, a 40 hour work week, paid vacation, paid holidays and a good boss, Tommie Muncie. We lived in Madison county.
I have always been interested in business and while working at Muncie I started to buy old cars, fix them up and resell them. This had been going pretty well and was bringing in a little extra income. Our children were one- and five-years-old and we had just purchased our first home, incurring a sizeable mortgage payment.
One Sunday morning Betty, my wife, was reading the Lexington Herald-Leader when she noticed a garage for rent on Mechanic Street in Lexington. We had two or three cars we were working on and thought this would help solve the storage problem we were having. We jumped in the car and drove to Lexington to check it out.
The garage was 4000 square feet, about five times the size we needed to store cars. We walked around the building and peeked in the windows. Bluegrass Automotive, Towing, and Repair was the current renter. Our business name was created by adding “Lowell’s” to the top of the Bluegrass Automotive sign. Voila! Lowell’s Bluegrass Automotive.
The next week I met with Louden Byrd, known as “Red” Byrd, the owner of Bluegrass Towing. I bought most of the equipment he had in the shop. Red assured me that with the repair customers he had and the towing business he owned, he would be able to supply me with all the “broken” cars I would need to make a fortune.
Now came the hard part. I had to tell Tommie Muncie I was leaving to start my own business. I can still remember standing in his office. He pointed out the rate of failure for new businesses and made me a couple of offers that were hard to refuse, but I had made up my mind. I was going to make the leap.
While at Muncie I had hired a 16-year-old, Danny King. Danny came with me as a mechanic to open Lowell’s. Note: Danny has stopped in over the years to say “Hello”. He is now a grandfather.
Lowell’s was scheduled to open on (I believe) the first Monday in October in 1979. In a panic my mother called me from Cleveland telling me I couldn’t open that day as it was Yom Kippur, a Jewish holiday. I wasn’t very observant at that time and didn’t know about it. So before we had a chance to open… we closed. The following day we opened.
The string of cars promised by Red Byrd didn’t quite appear. Our current two-day sales are higher than our sales were for our first three months in business. We struggled in the early years. Danny would work on cars, and I would also work on cars and run the business. It would be over a year before I started drawing a paycheck. In 1980, my pay was $3500 for the year, and was $7800 in 1981. This was half what I was being paid at Muncie, and with no benefits. Danny worked six days, and I worked six days and came in on Sundays to do the books. I didn’t take a vacation until we had been in business for three years.
Gradually our sales increased, as well as the number of our employees. In the early 80’s I thought it would be a good idea to specialize. I decided on Toyota, Datsun, Nissan and Honda. At that time general repair garages, such as ours, were sending their “foreign” car customers to the dealers. I thought this was a good opportunity. We quickly dropped Datsuns and Hondas and would only take new customers if they owned a Toyota. It was hard to turn away sales, but in the end it paid off.
My family moved to Lexington in 1989, cutting our commuting time from 40 minutes one way to five minutes. We loved country living but Lexington has more to offer.
We are a true family business. Betty started helping part-time and her hours increased as our children grew up. Amy, our daughter, has helped us in the past, assuming many different duties. Brian, our son, has been working here officially for 12 years. Before that he would spend a lot of his free time here helping and tinkering with junk cars and parts we had lying around. He is now our service advisor, technical advisor, and computer guy. He spends the bulk of his time dealing with customers and technicians. Undoubtedly he has the most challenging job in the shop. Brian also has a great knack for diagnosing cars when technicians run into a difficult problem. My father (paid in coffee) helps with our letter and postcard mailings.
Over the 29 years we have employed four husband-and-wife teams, children of employees, and various brothers and sisters. We have attended weddings, births and funerals. I have been the best man at weddings (twice for one tech who was married twice) and Betty was the Lamaze coach for an employee.
Our years of owning our own business have and continue to be a challenge, a challenge on which Betty and I thrive.
Thank you all for being a part of our first 29 years.
Lowell and Betty