Paul Grech: Running a Shop In the Heart of San Francisco
'Old-school mechanic' works on old cars too
"If you're looking for a straight shooter who knows what he's doing, look no further than Allied, anchored by the husband/wife team, Paul and Marianne."
Maybe that testimonial, found on the Internet, says it best. It's talking about Paul E. Grech - a legend in his own time - the longtime owner of Allied Engine & Auto Repair, which is smack-dab in the heart of San Francisco. And, apparently, Paul and his wife are smack-dab in the hearts of many San Francisco residents.
Paul's shop has been at 751 Ellis Street for 36 years. He's the kind of shop owner who treats people right. The kind of guy who keeps dog biscuits for customers' pets. And the kind of business owner who is nice to people, friendly and well-known. As one customer says, "Seemingly every person who walks or drives by says 'hi' to Paul, who has been on Ellis for decades."
Paul always tries to win over a customer's confidence as quickly as possible. "Once you have done that, it's smooth sailing," he says. "Once they trust you, the whole transaction takes a lot less time. I want them to feel good about coming to Allied Engine."
He also uses humor. For example, his Yellow Pages ad has a line that says, "Open Saturdays, sometimes, when the wife lets me."
People tell him the shop has a Cheers bar atmosphere, says Paul.
"I like all of the interaction with people, the problem solving with the cars, rescuing people with car problems, working with parts people and doing business with the tool guy," he says. "It also helps that I have an excellent memory, and I almost always recognize their voice and remember what kind of car they have. They like being a name and not just a number."
Being nice is just part of Paul's persona. But being nice pays off - literally - says Paul. "You need to be nice to everyone, because you never know what that one encounter will lead to." For example, says Paul, "I like it when I can buy something from the tool guy who needs a sale that day. One tool guy appreciated my doing that so much, he gave me a stock tip that turned a $5,000 investment into a $50,000 profit. And one day, a limousine driver drove in at lunchtime with a broken fan belt. He needed it fixed immediately while his client for the day was at lunch. I fixed it for him right away and it was a big turning point in my business. It turned out he knew my father-in-law when they were kids. He belonged to a co-op of 20 limousines. Their current mechanic couldn't or wouldn't get the limos back in service fast enough. The income from that account alone in two years time enabled me to buy the building I am in."
Another Internet testimonial writer says, "Paul is the old-school mechanic of your dreams. Always does a great job on my VW. Always honest and always tells me what he is going to do with my car before he does, and he always tells me the cost. Good guy who does excellent work and takes pride in it."
Paul's shop works on new vehicles, both domestic and foreign. But it's also known for its work on older vehicles. Currently in Paul's shop is a 1964 Studebaker Avanti, a 1966 Dodge Charger, a 1955 Chevrolet, and a 1938 Ford pickup.
"The best marketing tool I have is a nice-looking old classic car," says Paul. "I try to keep one in front of the shop. It brings me business. People walking by say things like, 'He must do good work because look at what kind of cars people trust him with.' I have owned a 1957 Ford Thunderbird for 46 years, longer than I have been married to Marianne. I have a sign for it that I display at car shows. The sign says, 'Same wife 42 years, same car 46 years (close!).' The Thunderbird's license plate says 'First Love.' When people ask me about my second love, I point to my wife."
Working on older cars is like an annuity, says Paul. "They provide a steady income. For example, 2008 was the worst year I have had fiscally. Fortunately, the old car part of the business kept us going without having to lay anyone off or cut their pay."
The current recession is impacting him, too. But here's a man who has been through a lot. He has made it through two gas shortages, the 1980-81 credit crisis, the 1989 earthquake, the 1991 recession, and "9/11" in 2001.
Paul first worked in a shop after school and during the summer when he was 13 years old. "I liked the cars, tools and the stability the industry had to offer," he says. "I also like having to use both my mental and manual dexterity skills that this job requires."
He worked in a small general repair shop for 11 years before buying the first half of Allied Engine & Auto Repair in 1973 for $2,500 and the second half in 1974. "I ran it by myself for four months. The first 10 months I did $92,000 in business. But that was good because the rent was only $250 a month. My best year, with five employees, I did $700,000 in business."
Paul currently employs two technicians and his wife runs the office.
He says his wife has very good people skills, and customers thoroughly enjoy being taken care of by her. "She handles all of the paper work, orders parts, drives people home and picks them up," says Paul. "People ask for her instead of me lots of times."
When you hear that and read testimonials on the Internet like the one that says, "No urban legend this time, folks. He's real," it's obvious that Paul and Marianne have captured the hearts of the people in the city by the bay. Who knows? Maybe Tony Bennett is thinking of them too when he croons, "I left my heart in San Francisco."
Name of Shop: Allied Engine & Auto Repair
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