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Grandpa’s Garage: When Charity Goes Corporate

, , , , , , , , , , , | Legal | CREDIT: SonDontPlay | November 16, 2023

My grandpa was a successful man, and in his mid-sixties, he decided he wanted to take a step back, so he started selling off his various businesses and spent the next few years traveling.

As he approached seventy, he got bored. He also had a few new grandchildren, so he needed a bigger house. He sold the old home that he had bought after he got back from Vietnam and bought this massive house on this large piece of land. This property also came with a massive steel barn.

I’m not sure if he had ever told anyone about his plans, but right after he got the property, he dumped a ton of money into tools and equipment and converted his barn into a mechanic’s dream. Some things I remember:

  • He had a professional lift, capable of lifting full-size trucks.
  • He had those professional oil catchers you see at quick lubes.
  • He had a dedicated air compressor system that was designed to power all his power tools.
  • He had a tire machine to mount new tires.
  • He had so much equipment.
  • His tool corner was a massive corner of this massive barn.

His plan? To fix cars, especially for people in need. He lived in a rural community; if you didn’t have a car that was a big problem. So, he let everyone at his local church know that he was willing to work on their cars if they provided the parts.

He only took a few jobs a week; he was doing this to enjoy himself and help those that needed it.  He changed oil, changed the transmission fluid, and did all kinds of various repairs. My grandpa was a talented mechanic. However, he kept the amount of work limited. He was also selective; if you were in need he’d want to fix your cars. If you had the means to pay, he’d decline and ask you to go elsewhere.

One day, the owner of the local car dealership came by and told my grandpa he needed to stop fixing other people’s cars because he wasn’t properly licensed, didn’t have the proper insurance, and was hurting his business. Grandpa explained that this was just his hobby; he only did a few cars a week. The owner told him he needed to cut it out, or he was going sue Grandpa out of business.

Grandpa laughed over this. What business was this guy going to sue him out of? The owner walked out.

A little while later, my grandpa got served; he was being sued by the owner of the car dealership. Grandpa thought he’d take a trip down to the dealership to try and reason with the man, hoping they could come to an understanding.

Grandpa spoke to the owner and basically explained:

  • He only worked on cars for people who were down on their luck. The fact was that the people whose cars he fixed probably couldn’t afford to pay a professional dealership to fix their vehicles.
  • He only did a few cars a week.
  • He was not all that interested in getting into a fight over his hobby, but he wasn’t going back down.

Well, they ended up in court. By this point, my grandpa had hired a lawyer, who was able to get the city to approve a commercial garage on his property. It helped that he lived on the outskirts of town and had six acres of property.

The court told my grandpa that his auto repair shop was operating illegally, and if he wanted to continue, he needed to get a business license and the proper insurance. If he did that, he would be good to go.

Now, what do you think a man who has nothing but time and money in this situation is going to do? He’s going to get his business license and insurance, of course. He did, and that surprised no one… but he went further.

  • He got a dedicated phone line run into his shop.
  • He hired a full-time mechanic.
  • He put up a professional sign.
  • He set up a little waiting area with a water cooler.

What shocked everyone even more?

  • He ran a local TV ad saying he was a pay-what-you-can mechanic shop, reservations only.
  • He put ads in the local paper saying the same thing.

Yes, folks, that’s right. My grandpa was now not only a licensed, legal auto repair business, but he had a certified mechanic on his payroll… and he was running ads. As for his prices? They were quite simple. You either:

  • Brought the parts yourself and paid the mechanic whatever you wanted — the mechanic got a separate wage from Grandpa, so if you couldn’t pay anything, that was fine — or;
  • Had Grandpa source the parts, he’d charge you the cost of the parts, and you’d pay the mechanic whatever you wanted.

Grandpa started taking jobs, and boy, did that shop get busy. It was impossible to beat Grandpa’s prices. Grandpa was essentially paying to fix your car for you. He would spend his days with the mechanic that he had hired working on cars. He loved it.

The owner of the local car dealership was furious, and he sued my grandpa again. They went to court, and the judge basically said that my grandpa owned a licensed, insured auto repair business, and what he charged his customers for his services was completely up to him — even if that meant doing the work for free.

About a year or so later, Grandpa got a call from a lawyer who said he was representing a potential buyer of the local car dealership; however, the buyer wanted to speak to Grandpa. My grandpa agreed, and he sat down with the new potential buyer who expressed his concerns about buying the dealership. Service is a major profit center for a dealership, and he was considering buying the local dealership. However, he didn’t want to buy the dealership if my grandpa was going to keep operating the way he did because a for-profit business couldn’t compete against someone selling their services for free.

Grandpa agreed that there was no way someone looking to make a profitable business could ever compete against him. So, they came to an agreement.

  • The potential buyer would buy the dealership.
  • Grandpa would only work on a few cars a week, maybe five or six.
  • He would only work on cars for people who were down on their luck and probably too poor to be able to pay a professional dealership to fix their car.
  • Any parts he needed, he would buy from the dealership.
  • Any work he declined, he’d refer to the dealership.
  • The buyer would let Grandpa be and stay out of his way.
  • The buyer would hire Grandpa’s mechanic.

They shook hands, the local dealership was bought out, and for the next nine years, my grandpa continued to fix cars for people who were down on their luck, and if he had to buy parts, he’d buy from the dealership. As for the mechanic Grandpa had hired? He ended up becoming the service manager and did quite well for himself.

As for my grandpa, when he was eighty, he had a heart attack in his shop. Luckily, one of his grandkids was there, they got him to the hospital, and he made a full recovery. But the doctor told him his body couldn’t handle working in that garage anymore. He ended up shutting down after that.

For the next three years, he looked out his kitchen window at his shop and remembered all the fun he’d had in his garage. He passed away at eighty-three surrounded by friends and family.

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