“Berrisford Smith, owner of Smitty’s Auto Service, has found satisfaction and success since striking out on his own….” That was the caption under a large photo of Smitty standing in his shop, posing for The Gainsville Sun twenty-three years ago. A lot has changed since Smitty graced the front page of the newspaper’s Business & Careers section, but his sentiments remain the same.
Smitty spent nearly a decade working as an Auto Technician for the then local VW Dealership before deciding to open his own auto repair service. Friends and family worried. With a young family, a new home, and other responsibilities, should he assume the many risks of business ownership? They didn’t worry for long.
Smitty opened his shop with just one lift, a couple of floor jacks, and his regular hand tools. He was his own lead technician, parts buyer, and customer service representative. Ask Smitty which tools he relied on the most, and he won’t name anything that fits in a tool box. Instead, he talks about his eagerness to succeed, his focus on satisfying customers, and the assistance of a very dear friend, Ms. Hannelore Callahan who handled company paperwork three days a week so Smitty could concentrate on running the shop. Additionally, his daughter Surinda, who was only 12 years old at the time, lent a helping hand during summer breaks, assisting with parts ordering and other office duties.
It didn’t take long for this dynamic trio to get Smitty’s Auto Service driving toward the highway of success. It took only a matter of months for the shop to double its client database. Just seven months after opening his door, Smitty had to hire help in order to meet the demands of his ever-growing client list. “Hiring that first technician, the late Cliff Caughlin, made a world of difference”, explains Smitty, “not only were we able to get more work done, I was able to spend more time with my customers, explaining what was wrong with their cars and what was needed to repair them.” Two years after opening, Smitty’s Auto Service converted from hand written tickets to computerized repair orders which allowed the shop to maintain accurate customer service history.
Smitty’s focus on honesty, clear communication and superior customer service has always been the cornerstone of his business. He proudly explains “some of my first customers were college students from the nearby University who now have kids of their own, and they still come to us for servicing and repair needs”. Smitty inspires loyalty not just in his customers, but in his employees as well. For example, Mrs Hannelore Callahan who made such an important contribution in getting the business off the ground, worked with him for over 19 years. Before retiring, she personally trained Surinda to take on the necessary company paperwork responsibilities.
As his clients’ families have grown, Smitty’s Auto Service has also seen a significant expansion. The shop now employs 3 full time auto technicians who have access to the Alldata Information Center; 5 lifts; a brake lathe; state-of-the art diagnostic tools for VW/Audi, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Volvo; and many special tools that would only be found at the respective dealerships. Smitty’s also carries a sizeable in-house auto parts inventory.
And, 23 years later, Smitty is still going strong, even after 16 months of dialysis and a kidney transplant from his daughter, Surinda, nearly 4 years ago. Drop by the shop, and you’ll still find Smitty communicating with his customers, assisting with repair diagnostics, performing quality control checks, and transporting his customers anywhere they need to go in the Gainesville area. He even provides his own personal pick-up service for customers when their car repairs are completed.
As the newspaper article stated twenty-three years ago, Smitty has indeed found success and satisfaction as a business owner. To quote him today: “My thanks go to our customers and our employees who have participated in this wonderful journey so far. As for me, I am still loving every minute of it!”
In fact, love is everywhere you look at Smitty’s Auto Service—from his daughter Surinda who manages the office; to the mutual appreciation he shares with his customers and employees; to his fatherly concern for today’s college students who are often many miles away from home and facing the daunting need for car repair.
When Smitty isn’t at work, he focuses his love and pride on his family. He has a beautiful wife and two wonderful daughters, Hermia, who lives in the West Indies, and Surinda, who lives (and works) much closer to home. He is also a proud grandparent of five wonderful grandchildren.