Gator takes bite out of inefficiencies
Carbondale, Ill.—Karen Greenberg and her husband, George Williams, owners of Gator Automotive have brought their repair shop a long way since their modest beginnings pumping gas. At first, working on cars and selling tires was a way to supplement gas sales, but they soon realized that it would have to become their primary source of income going forward.
“We started out in the late ’70s with a small service station. With gas sales, we were lucky to get a half-cent per gallon, so we knew that was not going to cut it. We started selling tires and working on cars and knew that we would need to move forward that way,” Greenberg said.
Greenberg and Williams upgraded over the next 30 years as they progressed and settled into their current location in 2008.
“As we continued to grow our business, technology was changing and we saw an opportunity to capitalize on what was happening by staying ahead of the curve. Electronics controls were becoming more prevalent starting in the ’80s and I became really involved in electrical diagnostics. To this day, it’s what I specialize in,” she said.
The shop’s main diagnostic tool is one that was purchased recently after careful consideration. “I decided to go with the Launch X431 after looking at many factors. The Launch can do diagnostics on most makes and models at a fraction of the cost of the other tools out there. The other plus is it came with two free years of updates.”
Other recent purchases that benefit the five full-time technicians on staff include an OTC 3840F Scope, the 815-1142 Portable Ram Kit from NAPA, and three new Rotary lifts which were purchased in combination from Dust & Son and Ronnie’s Equipment. One of the lifts is the SP012, rated for 12,000 pounds, and two SP010, which are rated for 10,000 pounds.
The 9000-square-foot shop features six full-service bays and one alignment bay. The alignment machine is a Beissbarth Microline alignment rack.
Before construction began on the new facility, Greenberg and Williams decided that they wanted to have an energy efficient shop that would help increase the bottom line.
“We decided to install radiant floor heating. The concrete mass under our feet is used as our main source of heat. We store all of our used oil and recycle it in an Energy Logic boiler that heats the water that runs through the floor. We also decided to use geothermal technology to produce the shop’s hot water and to heat the office. We have pipes pumping in water that is already near 50 degrees as it enters the system. Our utility bills are very low compared to what we were paying at our previous locations. Skylights were also installed to provide natural light throughout the shop,” Greenberg said.
Other eco-friendly processes have also been added to the shop over the last 10 years. “We recycle everything. Metal, fluids, you name it. One of the unique things we do is recycle and reuse antifreeze. We work with Jerry at PJ Recycling who comes out and runs our antifreeze through a carbon filtration process, which makes the used antifreeze usable again. He can filter all makes as well as green antifreeze.”
Additional factors that have led to the shop’s success include being in close proximity to Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and supplementing repair work with their towing business.
“A huge part of our customer base are college students. It is sometimes challenging because they don’t have a lot of money to make the repairs, but we do what we can to educate them on maintenance, reduce the stress of having repairs done, and keeping our services affordable.
“The younger generation has also given us opportunities to become more familiar with hybrid vehicles. We have done a lot of hybrid battery repairs and replacements over the last several years,” Greenberg said.
Williams oversees their towing business, which substantially increases car count. “We have one tow truck driver who stays pretty busy. We are also a AAA-approved repair facility, so that helps us as well.
“We have been lucky to be able to run this business as a family-owned facility for 40 years and we intend to keep on going until we can’t physically do it anymore.”