From l., technician Jeremy Schrader, owner Ed Schrader, and technician Kevin Betzer stand in front of the family-owned and operated shop.Owner Ed Schrader uses this temporary office space after a recent flood damaged the main location. He has plans to paint and remodel the entire office.Technician Kevin Betzer diagnoses a Dodge Dakota with engine issues using a Snap-on Modis.

Even flooding can’t keep family business from staying afloat

Bill’s Automotive provides quality automotive repairs to a solid customer base

Valley Park, Mo.- Not even a flood can stop Ed Schrader and Bill’s Automotive from providing quality repair services in Valley Park.

Recent flooding left the 4,000-square-foot shop under almost four feet of water, but Schrader said they persevered and didn’t let the event keep them down. “We were really only affected for a couple of days. The water came in and receded pretty quickly. We came in on the weekend and, with some help from friends and loyal customers, got it cleaned up and we were able to open up by that Monday morning,” Schrader said.

Schrader said he was able to plan in advance for the disaster while keeping the business going. “We knew it was coming, so we had to prepare,” he said. “We took what we could and got it up in the air on the lifts. That put us down for a few days, but that was really the only down time.”

The effects of the flood were minimized because of the planning of Schrader and his crew. “We had a couple of the lifts’ motors that were affected and the office was a mess, but it could have been worse,” said Schrader, who added that the shop didn’t use sandbags to help prevent flooding. “We tried that in 1982 and the sandbags did a really good job of keeping water in the building after the flooding went down. It was like having a two-foot deep swimming pool in and around the shop.”

Bill’s Automotive was opened in 1959 by Schrader’s grandfather, who operated the business until 1975 when he turned it over to Schrader’s father. In 2002, Schrader took over and kept the family business going and he plans to keep it that way. “My son Jeremy is one of my technicians and ideally I would like to keep the business in the family after my time here is done,” Schrader said.

The repair shop is set up with nine automotive repair bays of which seven are used on a regular basis. They are heated, air-conditioned, and equipped with Rotary lifts.

Schrader, who services only domestic and Asian vehicles, relies on Mitchell for his estimating software. “Mitchell has just proven to be the best option for me and what I do. It is very intuitive and easy to use. They have very good wiring diagrams and I’ve found it to be, overall, the best out there,” he said.

Diagnostics equipment is an ever-changing field but Schrader likes to stick with what he knows when it comes to choosing what is right for his shop. “I have a GM Tech 2 and a Snap-on MODIS that we use on an everyday basis. These along with a couple of code readers are enough for us to accomplish what we need to get done,” Schrader said.  With technology constantly changing, Schrader said he and his technician are always looking for ways to improve. “We watch a lot of YouTube videos. They are really helpful,” he said. “We also stay up to date by taking training courses. Lou Craven provides some great programs and we take advantage of those. I don’t think there is a stretch longer than two months in which someone doesn’t attend some type of training course.” 

Schrader said he feels that changes in electronics technology have been the biggest advancement in the automotive industry. “It’s not that the systems are harder, it’s just that there is more of it. There are electronics in every aspect of a vehicle today and tracing the fix is getting tougher to do. You can’t just look at a diagram anymore and trace a problem. It is more involved. We like to use programs like Identifix to help us out,” Schrader said.

Schrader sources his tools from Snap-on, Cornwell, and Matco, which gives him a variety of options that he can use on different applications. Most of the equipment in the shop was sourced from Snap-on as well. His alignment machine is from John Bean. In terms of equipment upgrades, Schrader said, “We will be adding a new AC recovery and charging station which will be capable of servicing the new R-1234yf-equipped vehicles.”

Schrader offers many services to his customers including tire repair and replacement, alignments, exhaust replacement, and detailed engine diagnostics and repair.

Schrader said he sources his parts primarily from Stonegate Auto Parts. “I would say two-thirds of my parts are supplied by Vince and the guys at Stonegate,” he said. “I have been using them for years and they usually have what I need.” Schrader also sources from Al’s Automotive and Factory Motor Parts for his other aftermarket needs. When he needs to get dealer-only parts, Schrader relies on Sunset Ford and Royal Gate Dodge. “We also let Stonegate get dealer parts for us. They are really cooperative in acquiring the right parts and getting them to us,” he said. Schrader gets his tires from Zisser Tire in Dellwood. “Zisser has been really good at providing us with great service and pricing over the years. We can have a customer drop their vehicle off in the morning and we’ll have the tires here to get the vehicle out by that afternoon,” Schrader said.

Schrader said he now does most of his ordering online. “It saves me so much time,” he said. “I used to spend half a day pricing and finding parts and now I have more time to take care of other business. The online ordering systems are the way to go nowadays.”

Bill’s Automotive has a loyal customer base. He does some advertising, but says that it is word of mouth that keeps him open. “I have advertised online and in church bulletin boards and papers, but word of mouth is the best form of advertising for a small shop like this,” he said. “We take care of them and do quality work. They appreciate it and tell their friends. It is the most effective advertising that there is. Let the work do the talking. It has really brought us a lot of business.”

Parts & People

Parts & People is published monthly by Automotive Counseling and Publishing Company, Inc., a Colorado corporation, P.O. Box 18731 Denver, CO 80203, 303-765-4664. President-Lance Buchner. Founded by Lance Buchner and Dave Lucia.