Longtime auto electric shop provides services to diverse customer base
Tacoma, Wash.—For more than 40 years, R.E. Auto Electric has been serving the needs of several industries as well as retail customers, said Linda Sternbeck, operations manager at the 3,500-square-foot facility. The business became the first division of Kent-based Romaine Electric, a group that currently operates electrical remanufacturing and repair operations across Washington, in Portland, Ore., Salt Lake City, Utah, Kansas City, Kan., Las Vegas, and locations in California, she said.
Sternbeck, who joined the Tacoma facility in 1990, is a graduate of the Diesel Technology program at Bates Technical College in Tacoma. “I came to R.E. directly from the training program and have remained here the past 25 years,” she said.
While automotive products are a mainstay at R.E. for auto parts stores, general repair shops and truck shops, Sternbeck said the company has a wide range of customers that also include logging operations, school districts, marine and industrial facilities, railroad operations, as well as the agricultural field. “We will repair or replace just about anything that comes through the door,” Sternbeck said, adding that 80 percent of their business is wholesale with starters and alternators the most repaired and sold products.
Clark Wagner, 73, who retired from R.E. last December after 22 years at the business, covered outside sales for the entire time at the company. The one-time owner of the former Lake Serene Auto & Marine Electric north of Seattle, Wagner said he covered a territory from Auburn to Olympia, Enumclaw to Bremerton, including the entire Olympic Peninsula from Port Angeles to Aberdeen. he said, adding that he joined the Romaine family when the company headquarters were still on Avenue South in Seattle. “Nick Staub (Romaine president and CEO) brought this company a long way in a field that has seen so many changes over the past 20 years. He is always looking at new and different products to provide to customers. Romaine and R.E. Auto Electric have carved out a niche market that works.”
While Wagner still stops by the shop regularly, his outside sales duties are now handled by Mark Sivertson.
Though most automotive electrical products range from 12- to 24-volt systems, R.E. handles a large quantity of 36-volt marine and 48-volt industrial starters and alternators for various applications, Sternbeck said. “Some of these units are huge and weigh a great deal,” she said. “They are not the typical automotive units.”
The extensive Romaine product line card lists the Romaine branded units, as well as new and OE starter and alternator products from Bosch, Delco Remy, Denso, Hitachi, Leech-Neville, Mitsubishi, Nikko and others. Romaine brand electric motors up to 700 HP are popular products, said Sternbeck, as are Romaine-built magnetos. From Cole Hersee electromechanical and electronic digital switches and connectors to Sure Power battery isolators and rectifiers, a vast array of electrical and electronic product are available. “We can either repair or rebuild most anything,” Sternbeck said, noting that the exception is distributors that are sourced through a Portland company.
We also sell lighting products that many logging operations and others use both in-shop and on trucks,” Sternbeck said. “The LED lighting systems solve amp draw-down on alternators.”
Deka batteries also play a large part in overall sales, Sternbeck said. “Deka is a leader in technology, builds high quality products, and we have very few warranties,” she said. “In 2013, I believe the company sold more than $1 million in Deka products, so it’s an important part of the business,” Wagner said.
On the retail side of sales, Sternbeck said they do a fair amount of vehicle restoration work. “We sponsor a local car club cruise-in and get business as a result of that, and from the nearby LeMay Museum. I like meeting and helping people every day, finding parts, and having the ability to repair what we can’t find or don’t have,” she said. “We have a great crew of five people, including Customer Service Rep Dave Allen who has been here since 1999 and knows so many of our customers. Along with an excellent rebuilder, Mikhail Maryanovskiy, and our efficient driver, Shaq, we provide a high level of service to our customers.”
Sternbeck’s only issue with the repair and rebuilding field is that it is difficult to find qualified rebuilders. “Years ago there were a lot of quality people, but as the industry has changed, and many rebuilders have gone away, it has become more challenging.”