St. Peters Garage maintains latest vehicles as it nears century mark of family ownership
St. Peters, Mo.—It’s a testament to the adaptability of the independent automotive repair shop that after 94 years and four generations, St. Peters Garage has thrived by adapting to the latest technologies while remaining true to its core emphasis of good customer service and a proper repair.
“If you keep comebacks to a minimum by doing the job right the first time, you’ll keep customers coming back,” said Barry Kreder, co-owner of the shop and great-grandson of Arthur L. Ell, who founded the shop in its present location in downtown St. Peters in 1920 in a brick building built in 1856. “You might be higher than the guy down the street, but you don’t want to compete on price, because somebody will always try to undercut you. Just do a good job at a fair price; people respect you for that.”
To keep up to date with technology, Kreder and co-owners Dale Heppermann and his brother, Ryan Kreder, said they have taken advantage of training through various outlets (ranging from dealerships to parts suppliers), as well as “just digging into” published service information.
“With AllData, it isn’t like the old manuals,” Ryan Kreder said. “There’s so much more available now with computers, you can train yourself.”
As the population of the former rural town of St. Peters has grown (since 1970, it’s grown from 500 to more than 50,000) so has the vehicle population to include all nameplates. The shop is prepared to work on almost any vehicle that comes through the door, he said.
“We keep up to date with our diagnostic equipment,” Barry Kreder said. “We have GM and Ford factory scan tools, Snap-on scanners, all the laptops with Ross-Tech and AutoEnginuity — that’s good for a lot of German makes like VW.”
The shop’s latest piece of equipment is a Snap-on TPMS tool, which is quick and easy to use, he said. The shop expanded its tire sales about five years ago when it added a John Bean alignment machine, a Coats tire machine, a Hofmann tire balancer, and a Challenger lift. Tire suppliers TCI, U.S. AutoForce, Community Wholesale Tire, and St. Louis Wholesale Tire allow the shop to quickly get access to a growing proliferation of tire sizes and styles without stocking them, Ryan Kreder said.
“We can be competitive with Dobbs and the dealers without having to buy a warehouse full of tires,” he said.
The original shop, which now houses the alignment machine and tire equipment, was expanded in the 1960s to its current 5,000 square feet.
Heppermann said there is a constant need to add to the shop’s cabinet of specialty tools such as the fixture needed to lock camshafts in place for a timing-belt replacement, and with the ready availability of such tools from tool trucks, the shop usually buys them as it needs them.
Original equipment parts or those available in the aftermarket from the manufacturer supplying the OEM are favored by the shop for critical applications such as a timing belt-driven water pump, Heppermann said. The shop uses a variety of parts suppliers, including Lou Fusz Network dealers, Mid-Nite Auto Supply, S&S Automotive, Factory Motor Parts, Suntrup GM, Pundmann Ford, Napleton Dodge, and Napleton Honda. It buys its engines and transmissions from the Lou Fusz Network.
CAN bus wiring may become a challenge for independent repairers, but for now those systems have been reliable and the shop hasn’t seen a need for their diagnosis, Heppermann said.
Gene Ell, who retired in 1996 after 44 years in the business, and Denny Kreder, who retired about a year ago after working at the shop more than 48 years, both said honest, good service will continue to keep generation after generation of customers returning to the shop for service and repair.
“That’s what we hang our hat on,” Kreder said.