Building a solid reputation in a community is difficult enough for a brand new business. But purchasing an existing business with a negative history adds an additional hurdle.
William Shelton, co-owner of Tuffy Tire & Auto Repair, didn't realize what he was up against when he decided, along with his brother-in-law, Keith Krueger, to purchase the shop a year ago.
After 18 years working in the aviation industry, maintaining aircraft refueling equipment, Shelton was ready for a change of scenery. His extensive background in auto mechanics since high school in different capacities and in maintenance for aviation was just the criteria he needed to leave Virginia and run an auto repair shop in Florida.
So when Krueger approached him, Shelton was ready to become partners in a Tuffy franchise in Spring Hill.
Tuffy is a national auto repair company but each office is independently owned. Only a few across North America are corporate-owned, Shelton said. And each maintains its own individual style, validating the statement that if you have experienced one Tuffy, you have experience that one Tuffy.
And that is exactly the message Shelton is hoping to get across to his community. His Tuffy maintains branding through national marketing, but his shop is independent. And it barely resembles the original Spring Hill Tuffy that customers may have had dealings with.
"We are not the same Tuffy," Shelton said.
Spring Hill's Tuffy embraced a more comfortable lobby, designing the waiting area with appeal and warmth, adding wall décor and a Keurig coffee maker so every cup is fresh.
"We wanted customers to feel comfortable if they have a wait time," Shelton said.
For big jobs that require the better part of a day, Tuffy encourages clients to drop their vehicles off and take advantage of a free ride to work, home or a shopping center while the vehicle is being repaired. "We will even take their automobile back to them," Shelton said.
Shelton is on a mission to change not only stereotypes about the auto repair industry but also about the county's single Tuffy location.
"We are family business and we want to treat people the way we would want to be treated," Shelton said. He lives in the county, buys supplies locally when he can and cares about his neighborhood. So he takes it personally when a customer who had a negative experience with the previous owner refuses to step into his shop.
He has even offered discounts and free oil changes. But for some people, the damage can't be undone.
So Shelton focuses on building trust with his own customers, some of who were eager to try out the new management.
Justin Davidson, a well-known chef in the county, has returned to Tuffy more than eight times for different services.
"They are fast and do good work," said Davidson, who brought his Hundai Allantra in for an oil change. Davidson, who now works in Pasco County, had no qualms about bringing his vehicle to Tuffy initially.
"I've never had a bad experience," he said.
Tuffy is a full service tire and repair facility, specializing in all makes, models and repairs. Standard at most facilities, Tuffy uses a check-list system every time a vehicle is in for an oil change. The packet tests all fluids with a documented visual result so customers can see what is going on under the hood.
Using the check system takes samples from the automobile's fluids and puts them on a comprehensive test kit. If a contamination is found, the customer can see a visual so they can then make an objective decision based on facts.
Tiffany Frost calls Tuffy her "go to mechanic." Although married to a mechanically-inclined husband, she occasionally takes her vehicle in for maintenance.
"They are honest and prompt and willing to explain each procedure," she said. "And my husband trusts them so I trust them."
Recently, Frost purchased four new tires at Tuffy and hit a delay from the manufacturer. It was rectified, she said. The issue had nothing to do with Tuffy. But the shop went above and beyond in their customer service to make up for the inconvenience.
"I refer all my friends to them," she said.
All auto repairs at Tuffy are backed with a 12 month, 12,000 mile guarantee. And that guarantee is covered anywhere there is a Tuffy across North America.
Good mechanics and solid repair shops are certainly a standard the industry is working hard to maintain in Hernando County. Competition is strong, with shops across the county. Though competition is strong in Hernando County's auto repair business, Shelton said he believes there is enough work for everyone.
His focus remains on building a reputable business for the customers he serves.
"We are getting them in," he said, and keeping them.
Email Hernando Today correspondent Kim Dame at email@example.com.