Auto Service World
Feature   August 1, 2005   by

Like A Rock

They call it "The Rock" and for good reason.

Newfoundland is not only home to every type of geological formation you can imagine, but it boasts some of the oldest settlements in Canada; the very foundation, some would argue, of our national heritage.

Crotty Auto Services in St. Johnýs is also built on a solid foundation.

"We come from a history of about 75 years of automotive background," says vice-president, Frank Crotty. "My grandfather Patrick J. Crotty originally started our business and he’s our namesake."

Crotty Taxi opened in the late 20s, back when the horse and buggy were still in vogue. P.J. Crotty brought some of the first motorized vehicles to Newfoundland for his taxi business, and as cars became popular he added the service station and automotive repair aspect. His slogan "We give you happy motoring!" is still in use today, though they’ve amended it somewhat to, "We give you miles of smiles and happy motoring.’"

P.J.’s son, Frank Crotty Sr., helped maintain the taxis, getting both his journeyman mechanics and auto body repair certificates in the process. When Crotty Taxi closed its doors in the early 60s, Frank Sr. spent 30 years working for Adam’s Service Station, another reputable St. John’s repair outlet. That lasted until Adam’s closed its doors in the early 1980s when convenience stores and self-serve gas pumps began to replace corner garages.

By that time, Frank Jr. had come out of school with his financial accounting training. He convinced his dad to revive the family business, and in 1983 Crotty Auto Service was reborn. Frank Sr. provided the tools and mechanical expertise while Frank Jr. handled the accounting in his spare time while working as a bookkeeper for a local machine shop.

It was a humble beginning, nothing more than a two-bay "barn," just a few blocks away from their current location on Kenmount Road. After about 15 years of working two jobs, Frank Jr. decided to join his father full-time and has been managing the business ever since.

"My only regret," he says, "is that I didn’t do it sooner." The shop is certainly successful today, but Frank can only guess how much further along they’d be now if heýd been able to give his dad 100 per cent support back in the early days. "Hindsight is always 20/20."

The experience Frank gained at the machine shop, and later at a local sign company, proved invaluable. Building on his dad’s strong foundation, Frank took the shop to the next level. They went from repairing just older cars to where they can now handle anything that comes through the door. Crotty Auto Services is now one of the busiest shops in St. John’s, and if Frank has his way, further growth is on the way.

Banner programs were used to enhance the shop image and to take advantage of national brand recognition. They started first with NAPA’s AutoPro program, and moved three years ago to the Tech-Net program offered by CARQUEST. Frank likes the many value-added aspects it contains, including having his parts supplier right down the street. He was able to cut his parts inventory by 80 per cent.
When we order a part, it’s here within seven minutes. Now that’s productivity!

Four full-time technicians handle the repair work while Frank takes care of the front counter. Bookkeeper Annette Burke handles much of the office work that Frank used to do himself. "When I got the business up to where it needed to be, I stepped away from the financial side of it," says Frank. "I focused on sales, marketing, and growing the business. Now Iým on the counter; thatýs my job."

In his view, putting the owners on the frontline makes the business work.

The frontline staff still includes Frank Crotty, Sr., even though he’s 71 years old, and seen several major health setbacks over the years. Heýs there every day, driving customers to and from work. "The customerýs love him," says Frank. ýWhat my dad does for me is customer shuttle service, troubleshooting, and drivability problems. Plus he has keen ear for noises."

Crotty Auto handles between five and six thousand repair orders a year, and that doesn’t include Frank’s other store, the Mr. Transmission shop on Topsail Road in Mount Pearl. "It’s a specialty program, and I liked the direction they’re going," he explains, adding that the professional level of the franchise appeals to him. "When you go into my shop out there, you’re going to be sitting on a leather couch," he grins. "That’s the perception in that particular industry, because the average repair order is $1,500 to $2,000. You’re not seeing 25 to 30 vehicles per day; you’re seeing one or two vehicles per day."

Crotty Auto is strategically located on what’s referred to locally as The Golden Mile. Big Box stores like Home Depot and Wal-Mart have opened nearby, and a new Canadian Tire is coming just across the street. Some would worry about the competition factor, but not Frank. "Our business is different from the national chains; we’re an independent, family-owned and operated business. We built our business on trust. You can ask any of my customers; they know that they’re not going to get an injustice done when they get their vehicle back. That’s what we take pride in."

Frank traces much of that customer trust to the way he takes care of his staff. "Our guys don’t work on commission here; they’re all on straight salary, every one of them. If they want a day off, they get a day off and they don’t get docked." Conversely, if they have to work a little overtime, they don’t get paid extra. "It’s an agreement we have, a monthly salary and the guys are happy. One technician has been with the company close to 20 years."

Crotty offers employees a full group insurance plan, as well as a cover-all program. "Our full group insurance program is second to none; medical, dental, long-term disability, life insurance, and travel insurance." Frank put the program together through a local broker, making sure it had the products he wanted for his team. "I’ve been on both sides of the fence and I know what it’s like being the employee. It’s not easy, and I said I was never going to scrimp (as an employer). With my guys here, it’s like a family business."

Training remains a critical issue with technicians on The Rock. Most trainers require 25 or more attendees before they’ll put on a seminar, but Frank has found that to be a tough challenge in Newfoundland.

"The shops donýt want to spend the money," he says. "The upper-end shops, they’re an elite few. You can count them on one hand." Crotty Auto has all the latest equipment and Frank keeps things fully upgraded, but it’s not enough. "It gets back to the basic knowledge of how to fix a vehicle," he points out. "Today’s vehicles are so precise and so meticulous on the technology side that you can’t train enough for it. And even our local suppliers can’t get us the training we require." Unfortunately, Toronto is often the closest location for a good training course.

Besides lack of training, East Coast technicians have to deal with the elements. "Most of the problems we have here in Newfoundland are corrosion-related," says technician Nick Hynes, referring to both the salt air and the salt used on the winter roads. "Wiring, studs breaking off of manifolds; everything like that." On a recent job, Nick had to strip the interior of a Chevy Van to repair corroded wires in harness.

Fellow technicians Scott Miller and Barry Penney were unanimous on their biggest hang-up with working in Newfoundland: "Winter!" Apparently the snow comes early, comes in large quantities and stays late in the season. "And winter is always the time you get called out for service calls," laments Scott.

But they do their job, and do it well. "I’d throw us up against any dealership in this city on any given task," states Frank.

He and his father are proud of their family business, and the reputation they have built up over the years at Crotty Auto Services; a reputation thatýs as solid as the Rock they live on.

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1 Comment » for Like A Rock
  1. PAUL RUSSO says:

    I don’t know how we survived w/o all these idiot lights! It’s only a good item if they are working properly. Give everyone a tire gauge! Snow tires are good ,but NOT necessary. TPMS is good, but NOT necessary! Does anyone realise the cost to the used vehicle industry? I replaced 4 sensors, but the light was still on $250 later, a cost that cannot be passed on. Do we deduct for the illuminated light upon trade-in? That will go over well. These types of technology is good if you are the one getting paid for it, but not if you have to pay for it. WAYYYY too much technology!

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