Introducing the Lowell’s Courtesy iPad

We’re always looking for ways to make your Lowell’s experience better.

IPad2You might have gotten a ride to work in our courtesy shuttle van.  If we needed to keep your car for a while, you might have driven one of our courtesy loaner vehicles.  Some of you have even ridden our courtesy bikes around downtown!

Now, the next time you are waiting in our lobby, try out our new courtesy iPad 2!

Use our iPad to cruise the internet, to catch up on news, or even to play a few rounds of Angry Birds while we fix your car!

 

Share the Knowlege

Keith3Hello everyone!  My name is Keith Shelburne. I have been working for Lowells for just over 6 years now, and have been asked by Rob to be a  contributor to the blog.

I have been turning wrenches (as they say) for over 26 years and am an ASE Master Certified Technician.

My objective will be to share my knowlege with everyone on the blog.  Things from the write up to service to what we do when we technicians get your car, as well as any specifics on the cars.

I will try to be as informative as possible without being too technical.  I would like to hear any questions about appointments, personnel, write-ups, training,  service work or technical topics.

Do you have a topic already? Just let me know what you would like to see covered.  Check back soon to see what the first topic may be.

Thanks,  Keith S

Easier Appointments

Online2 We're pleased to release a long-needed upgrade to our online system for making service appointments or checking your service history.

If you used the application over the past couple of years, you were taken to an older section of our site which looked very different from our main site: different logo, different background, different navigation.  

In fact, it looked so different that it confused some customers.  Were they even on the same site?

We've tried to update the look and feel of the application to make it clearer and easier to use.

Try it out and let us know how you like it.  And, as always, please let us know what we can do better.

LowellsSquare

“Do You Always Use Genuine Toyota Parts?”

Customers often ask us, “Do you always use genuine Toyota parts?”

No, not always.

Genuine Toyota Brake Pads Throughout our history, we’ve consistently used a mixture of genuine Toyota parts and high-quality aftermarket (in other words, “non-Toyota”) parts.

We choose parts based on part quality, availability, and price.  If a Toyota part costs too much or takes too long to get in, and we can offer a high-quality alternative, we will.

On critical categories of parts – such as brake pads, oil filters, antifreeze, and ignition coils – we use only Toyota materials because we think Toyota offers superior quality.

When we do use aftermarket parts, we try to ensure that they are equivalent in quality to Toyota parts – usually by choosing a supplier who also supplies Toyota (such as NGK or Denso).

We know that our parts quality is key to our customers’ satisfaction – and to the future of Lowell’s. Without great parts, we wouldn’t be able to stand behind our exceptional three-year / 36,000-mile warranty on most repairs (where other shops and dealers usually offer 1-year or 90-day warranties).

If you ever have questions about your parts, please feel free to ask.  We’re always happy to explain how we work on your car.

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Year-End Schedule

Year End 2010Following our long-standing tradition, Lowell's will be closed for the last week of the year.  

That means we will be closing early (at 2 PM) on December 24th, and will remain closed until we reopen for business on January 3rd, 2011.

If you need to schedule service with us prior to your holiday travel, please keep this schedule in mind.  You can make an appointment online, or call us the shop at 233-1173.

Thank you so much for a great 2010, and we look forward to seeing you again in 2011!

Rob, Suzanne, and your friends at Lowell's

789 Free Oil Changes

789As part of our 30th Anniversary, Lowell's gave away 789 free oil changes during the last 3 months of 2009 during our Lowell's Community Service program. In total, those oil changes were worth over $18,500. 

Community Service was our way to say "thank you" for 30 years of support – and for making Lowell's Lexington's "Best Honest Mechanic" (Ace Weekly's Best of Lex Awards) and "Favorite Auto Repair Shop" (Herald-Leader's Reader's Choice Awards) in 2009.

As we start 2010, we're looking at other innovative ways we can serve
our loyal customers and our community – please let us know if you have
great ideas!

We thank you for supporting us for the past 30 years, and we look
forward to serving Lexington in 2010 and beyond. Happy New Year!

We love you, too!

One of the great things about working at a service-oriented company like Lowell’s is how much our customers appreciate what we do.  Our hope is that treating customers with generosity will pay future dividends – we want to build the most loyal band of customers in the city.

And, occasionally, we’re able to do something which touches peoples’ lives for the better.  We did that a couple of times last week.

J.I. sent us this note in response to our Community Service program (a FREE full-service oil change, with no strings, no catches, and no charge), our way of saying “thank you” to our community in celebration of our 30th anniversary:

Sent: Wednesday, October 14, 2009 3:45 PM

Subject: I LOVE LOWELL’S

I just wanted to share something with you.  I have been experiencing a
bit of financial difficulty these past few months.  I guess I too am a
victim of the bad economy.  Anyway, my service light came on yesterday
and I quickly realized I needed an oil change.  I decided to check out
your web site to see if I could get a good deal on an oil change and to
my amazement I saw the ad for a free oil change.  I will be contacting
you to make my appointment! 🙂  I wanted to say thanks for the years of
GREAT service you provide Lexington and your decision to offer a free
oil change. It is a BLESSING to me!  May you get all that you deserve in
return for being so honest and giving!

J.I.

That same week, we got a bowl full of candy and this wonderful note from C.H., who used one of our 20-year-old loaner Camrys over the weekend:

Thank you so much for the use of the loaner car while mine was being fixed.  I must admit that I panicked not quite knowing how to work out the details of not having a car.  Your loaner looked better than any luxury car could ever look to me this weekend!!

You all truly deserve the reputation you have as giving excellent customer service!!

With gratitude,
C.H.

Both of these notes make us proud to be in the business of helping people.  We’re always looking for ways to be an even better mechanic.  It is really nice when you tell us that we’re on the right track.

We love you, too!

The True Cost of South Limestone

The South Limestone streetscape project began with the closure of South Lime two months ago today, and the project is slated to continue for another 10 months.  Meant to better connect downtown with the University of Kentucky campus, the project includes the widening of sidewalks, the installation of bike lanes, and the underground placement of utilities.

When the project started, we wrote about the chaotic process of closing the street and about the need for practical planning and design on South Lime and other urban development projects.  How has the project evolved since then?

Not well.

Severed Artery
The closure dramatically impacted traffic patterns between downtown
Lexington and the south side of our city, resulting in gnarled traffic
on a number of alternative routes to downtown.  At various points in the project, intersections with cross-streets (High, Maxwell, and Euclid) have also closed with little notice, adding to confusion and gridlock for downtown commuters and shoppers.  In effect, the closure of South Limestone has walled off downtown from Lexington's south side.

Several businesses along South Lime have struggled to cope with the substantial loss of customers and the physical disruption of their businesses.  Last week, Joe Graviss, the owner of the McDonald's on South Lime, pleaded with Lexington's Mayor and Urban County Council to add extra shifts or more workers to speed the project.  

City officials responded that extra shifts will not accelerate the project.  The project's manager noted that the city's concrete supplier closed in the evenings and that local utilities were already providing personnel to assist with the location and relocation of utility lines.  At one point, he admitted that he had no ideas for speeding the South Lime project along.

Vice Mayor Jim Gray – the CEO of Gray Construction and the only councilmember to oppose the project – countered the project manager's claims.  "It would be wise of us not to be extravagant in describing the difficulties of this project…  With 2000 projects under my belt, I've never seen a project that couldn't be improved or accelerated."

At this point, most elected leaders and city bureaucrats seem unprepared to take significant action to accelerate the South Limestone streetscape project.

That's because they have been thinking about the impacts of South Lime on the wrong scale.

Estimates on the price of the South Lime project vary, but the early $5.2 million estimate has ballooned to somewhere between $13.1 and $17 million.  The newer, higher price was partly meant to help expedite the project. 

But, as we'll see in a moment, that price far underestimates the true cost of the project to our city, our economy, and to our future. 

South Limestone's closure is not a mere inconvenience – it is a severed
artery that is bleeding the life from downtown.  It demands an urgent response from our leaders.  The cost to the city is too
dear to delay action, especially in this difficult economy.

Disruption: Anecdotes and Hard Data
A number of weeks ago, on the first day that the High Street intersection with South Lime was closed, I worked in my office and overheard two different customers from the south side of Lexington talk about the enormous problem of getting to our downtown shop – the confusion from suddenly closing the High Street intersection had made traffic especially difficult to decipher.

Then, we had an elderly customer from Nicholasville make an appointment for the next day, asking for directions on how to get to the shop with all of the construction.  Concerned about getting lost, she decided to do a dry run the day before.  After experiencing the jams, diversions, and delays, she called back and canceled her appointment.

Last month, I talked with another downtown business who is in our same industry.  They were scratching their heads about why their August business "fell off a cliff".  I talked with them again last week, and their business was still much slower than usual.

Yesterday, a regular customer who owns a shop in Festival Market came into Lowell's and opened the discussion with a flat "Business sucks".

When I started hearing these anecdotes, I began to think that the impacts of the South Limestone closure extended far beyond South Lime.  I wondered about the effects of South Lime as a customer deterrent for our business:

  • How many of our customers come from the south side of Lexington?
  • How many of those south-siders might have chosen to stay away from "the mess" downtown?
  • What could that data tell us about the impacts to all of downtown Lexington?

And what I saw in the data was astounding and troubling:

  • About 30% of our customers come from ZIP codes which would use Nicholasville Road (which turns into South Limestone) as the primary corridor to downtown
  • Since July 22nd – the date of the closure – we have lost one third of the business we'd normally expect from those ZIP codes.  By comparison, the rest of Lexington is relatively flat or growing.
  • The net of this was a loss of 10% of our sales (and a much bigger hit to our profitability) directly attributable to the South Lime closure.

I disclose these facts not as a woe-are-we pity party, but as a fact-based assessment of how "the mess downtown" affects one downtown business.  Our business is a relatively healthy, well-respected business with incredibly loyal customers (Last week, we won "Best Honest Mechanic" from Ace Weekly readers).  And, still, the closure of South Limestone accounted for a loss of a full third of south-side customers.

Ripple Effects
Can we extrapolate from just one business to the whole of downtown?  Not with any degree of certainty.  But my conversations with other business owners make me believe that my business' experience with the South Lime closure is not exceptional.  Admittedly, not every downtown business is as impacted by traffic disruptions, but most are impacted in some fashion: lost customers, lost productivity, supply chain delays, etc.

Hard data for downtown Lexington is difficult to come by.

  • Just how much of Lexington's $11 billion economy takes place downtown?
  • Which businesses depend upon the smooth flow of traffic?  To what degree?
  • How many of their customers / employees / suppliers come from the south side?

Depending on the assumptions used, the estimate of impacts to downtown can vary wildly.  Our best "conservative" estimate?  Downtown Lexington loses about $360,000 each business day that South Limestone is closed.  (Depending on our assumptions, the estimates ranged between $275,000 and $600,000 each day.)

That translates to between $7.0 to $7.7 million in lost business every month, or between $84 and $92 million for the year-long duration of the South Limestone project.  That's around 700 to 1000 jobs which could evaporate from downtown Lexington, especially as the closure drags on.

Are these numbers absolute?  Not by any means.  But they do provide a ballpark idea of the true cost of the South Limestone project. 

Much of the focus on the costs of South Lime have focused on either a) the direct taxpayer costs ($17 million) or b) the costs to businesses on South Lime.  And while those South Limestone businesses deserve special attention for the degree this project impacts them, our estimates suggest that our leaders and our community have been thinking about 'cost' on the wrong scale.  There is a much bigger, much more urgent cost which must be addressed.

The irony of South Limestone – as the cycle of lost customers, declining businesses, lower employment, and more lost customers continues – is that the project may well end up strangling the very downtown that the streetscape is meant to connect with.

Our leaders frequently assert the necessity of a vibrant, livable downtown.  It is time for them to live up to their words. 

With the South Limestone closure, they must now choose: Will they continue to choke off downtown from a significant portion of the city, or will they act with urgency and extraordinary effort to accelerate and improve the project?

Their actions now will determine whether the prediction from our Chaos post will come true:

"And the results of the chaos are easy to predict.  Confused commuters
and shoppers stay away from 'the mess' downtown.  Downtown businesses
die.  And, after fits and starts, Lexington ends up with a beautiful
street.  To nowhere."

Time to choose.

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I’m going to jail. For good.

Noooo, it’s not because of what I’ve been writing here on the blog (yet).  

Don’t worry, it is all in good fun.  But it is also for a good cause.

MDALogo_TaglineI’m asking you to help me raise ‘bail’ to support Jerry’s Kids and the Muscular Dystrophy Association.  

Next Thursday morning (September 17th), I’ll be carted away from Lowell’s to a mysterious destination a few blocks away, and the nice folks at MDA won’t let me out until I’ve raised $2,000.  That’s enough to help a child with a wheelchair or leg braces.

JerryI’ve never tried fund-raising before, so this is a brand-new experience for me.  And $2,000 sounds like an awful lot to raise.  And I have procrastinated because I wasn’t sure how to ask for your help. 

All of which means you will earn my eternal respect and gratitude if you can help me raise the necessary funds to get out of jail.

If you are interested and able, I’d sure appreciate your contribution at my MDA Lock-up page.  Any amount will help.  And if, in these tough times, you feel that you can’t donate, that’s OK — please help me by spreading the word through Twitter, Facebook, and email.

Thank you so much for your support of a great cause.

Rob

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The Treeds Experiment

Back in May, I blogged about the abandoned properties next to our shop, and about what to do about blight in our city. 

In this week’s Urban County Council meetings, residents of several neighborhoods surrounding the University of Kentucky campus registered their concerns about the changes taking place in their communities. 

The biggest concerns surrounded how some property owners were effectively converting single-family homes into makeshift dormitories / frat houses / flop houses to take advantage of the burgeoning student population at UK.  The complaints centered not only on the creation of multi-unit apartments and the paving of lawns for parking, but also on the often-destructive behavior of the residents who move in.

Some on the council wished to impose a moratorium on these kinds of conversions while the city figures out how to accommodate growth at UK. 

Last night, the council rejected the proposed moratorium, to the disappointment of many of the residents.  At one point, Councilmember Lane suggested that neighbors should simply “file a complaint on property owners you feel are in violation of zoning ordinance, see if our government can apply the laws we have on the books,” to which citizen Janet Cowan responded “I know all of the numbers, Mr. Lane.  I have them on speed dial.” 

So, how well can the government apply the laws we have on the books?  It is time to see. 

The Treeds Experiment
What happened after openly blogging about the properties surrounding Lowell’s back in May? 

Nothing.

Well, not nothing, exactly..  The 8-foot tall tree-weeds (“treeds”) I talked about then have now grown to some 16- to 18-feet tall, dwarfing the hedges that they have grown through.

IMG_2528

The treeds now spill out over the sidewalks, making them impossible to navigate without a machete.  Some pedestrians step into the street rather than navigate the mess on the sidewalks.

IMG_2520

The grass growing next to our building has now grown to 7 1/2 feet tall (That’s me back there earlier this afternoon, risking chiggers and other man-eating varmints. I’m 6 1/2 feet tall…). 

IMG_2526

And, finally, the only drain on the lot is completely crusted over.  So, during heavy rains, the lot drains straight into Mechanic Street, contributing to an occasional “Lake Mechanic”.

IMG_2530

All of which sets the stage for what I’m calling “The Treeds Experiment”.  The Treeds Experiment is a test — wherein I plan to take up Councilmember Lane’s suggestion — and learn just how long and how well our government takes to apply the laws that we already have on the books.

Simultaneous with this blog post on the afternoon before a holiday weekend, I am sending an email to code_enforcement@lfucg.com requesting that they take remedial action upon this lot and its owners.

I will chronicle the communication (and, I anticipate, the non-communication) I get from the Code Enforcement folks and other city officials in updates to this post and on Twitter.  I will not tell them that I am doing so (so that they will not artificially accelerate their actions).

But I am telling you.

Should be interesting.  Look for updates here as the weeks and months progress.

::

Note: Many thanks to AceWeekly for chronicling the LFUCG meetings and civic discussions.  Ace captured the quotes I used above.

Pat Gerhard at Third Street Stuff has recently contacted the Downtown Development Authority about the lot.  We agreed a month or so ago that I would contact Code Enforcement.  (Sorry for the delay, Pat.)

9/4/2009, 3:46 PM: Sent initial email to LFUCG Code Enforcement, while publishing this post.

To whom it may concern:

I am the owner of Lowell’s, an auto
repair shop at 111 Mechanic Street.  There is a lot at the North corner
of North Limestone and Mechanic which appears to be abandoned, as no
maintenance has been done by the owners for over 2 years. 

There are now large tree-weeds growing through the hedges
surrounding the lot, making progress on sidewalks very difficult.  The
only drain on the lot is clogged, and the lot drains into Mechanic
Street, contributing to flooding during heavy rains.  There is a large
clump of grass which is now approaching 8 feet in height which is
growing next to our main building.  Many customers assume that the lot
is ours (since it borders our building), and a few have asked us to
clean it up.

Can you take remedial action on this property and update me on your progress in addressing these issues? 

Thank you,
Rob Morris

9/4/2009, 6:18 PM: Blog comment from the Lexington Streetweeper (written by an LFUCG employee) on how the Treeds Experiment is “destined to fail”.

9/4/2009, 9:28 PM: I reply that failure really isn’t possible.

9/7/2009, 10:50 AM: During torrential downpours, Lake Mechanic forms again as Mechanic Street is completely flooded, due in part to runoff from the Treeds lot with a clogged drain.

9/8/2009, 10:45 AM: I receive an email from David Jarvis, Director of Code Enforcement:

I will have Calvin Powell assign an Inspector.  Thank You.

9/8/2009, 1:25 PM: I respond:

Thank you.  I look forward to your updates.

Rob

9/8/2009, 2:19 PM: David Jarvis sends me another email:

Property will be cited (14 day time limit) and the limbs will be cleared back off the sidewalk as soon as we can get our contractor there.

As I read that email (and post this update) the contractors arrive with weed-eaters and loppers in hand:

IMG_2531 

IMG_2532

Buh-bye treeds!  But where will the varmints live now?

9/8/2009, 2:45 PM: Taylor Shelton and 10th District Councilmember Doug Martin post responses on the blog.  Councilmember Martin mentions that Code Enforcement is particularly short-handed and suggests that citizens use LexCall 311 with details of their similar complaints.

9/8/2009, 6:31 PM: I came back to Lowell’s after being out since about 3:30 PM, and most of the debris was removed.  Still a couple of piles which couldn’t fit into the contractor’s truck.

IMG_2536

9/9/2009, 9:15 AM: Contractors cleaning up remaining debris from lot next to Lowell’s main building.

IMG_2537  

9/9/2009, 10:14 AM: The lot’s only drain is still clogged.  Not sure whether that is a Code Enforcement issue or not.  Sent a response to David Jarvis and Calvin Powell:

Thank you for your quick actions in getting this lot cleared. 


Is the clogged drain in the lot something under the purview of Code
Enforcement, or would there be another department which handles that
drainage issue?



Thanks,

Rob

IMG_2540 IMG_2541 IMG_2542

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