Still busy after all these years

When Ponte’s Auto Care moved to its present location in 2002, the business had already been running for 20 years as a gasoline/service station. Owner Jim Ponte said it was time “to close the gasoline chapter of our life and move back to our grassroots: automotive service and repair.”

Coming from someone practically born into the business, that statement suggests that Jim has a clear perspective of what it takes to be successful.

Getting started

As a kid, Jim pumped gas at his father’s shop outside of Wilmington, DE. Already choosing his career path, he attended the local Vo-tech school where, in 1972, he won the Plymouth Troubleshooting Contest. A decade later, health issues forced his father to retire, and the state wanted the shop’s property for a new highway. Jim made the decision to take over the business and move it across town.

Now in its third location, Ponte’s Auto Care has five bays (each with a lift) and four full-time techs. One has been with Jim since the beginning, and another has been there 20 years. Both are ASE Master Techs with L1 certification (plus a few more), and a third tech who has been there 5 years is working on advanced certifications. Jim also hired an intern for LOF and tire work, and he’s working toward a degree in mechanical engineering.

The staff includes two service writers, one who has been there for 17 years. Two writers for a four-man shop may seem unusual, but considering one is also the shop manager and the other manages a customer care program with 10,000 customers, and that the shop completes 5,000 repair orders per year, there’s plenty of work to keep everyone busy.

Shop philosophy

Jim describes the work as an even mix of light-duty domestic and import, and about 60 percent is maintenance. Jim admitted that maintenance is a hard sell, and he tells customers “We try to be proactive rather than reactive. Our philosophy is preventive care. Let’s prevent a repair from occurring and keep your vehicle running.”

He stresses maintenance saves money by avoiding expensive repairs and by extending the life of the vehicle. As a full-service shop, Jim said his choice of tools and equipment is influenced by the vehicles his customers drive. He said their lack of factory scan tools for some models has become a major issue, but he noted “there’s a point when you have to ask is the stuff available and is it available at a reasonable price?”

Jim admits he’s been in business long enough to have developed other resources to get the job done. “Not that we can do it all in-house, but we offer it all in-house. If we need an instrument panel programmed, we’ll take it to the dealer and have them do it for us. We want to offer our customer everything we possibly can.”

Jim says his years of experience helped him decide how to lay out the shop, and he noted that “technicians are part of that formula. Where to place alignment equipment, toolboxes and workbenches was determined by who is working where. I like to keep the bays as open as I can, keep equipment as far away as possible from the technicians.”

The result is fewer steps for the techs simply because there are fewer obstacles in the service bay. Jim described his philosophy of shop design as “common sense, ecology and efficiency.”

From what we saw, that seems to be his philosophy toward his whole business. We would call forty-plus years, most with the same loyal staff, a pretty good definition of success.


 

Top 10 Tools

  1. Snap-on scan tools (Modis, ETHOS).
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  3. NAPA Fix subscription.
  4. Management system Shop Key.
  5. Mini Ductor heat gun.
  6. Power Probe.
  7. Micro Turn box-end wrenches.
  8. Snap-on Tech Wrench torque wrench.
  9. 3/8 cordless impact.
  10. E-Z Red computer memory saver.

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