The Howland man plans a string of four local car repair shops.
By DON SHILLING
VINDICATOR BUSINESS EDITOR
BOARDMAN -- Jim Caldwell knows it sounds a bit strange for a fire protection engineer to be starting a car repair shop.
He says it doesn't matter that he won't be fixing brakes or engines because the most important part of Superior Automotive Service Center will be a commitment to doing honest work. He thinks he can convince customers of that.
"Every person that works for me knows there are three things that will get them fired -- alcohol or drugs, fighting and cheating a customer. If they get caught cheating a customer, they're out of here," he said.
Caldwell opened Superior last month in the Shops at Boardman Park in the repair bays next to Advance Auto Parts. He intends to open a shop next to the Advance store in Niles next month and at the Advance stores in Liberty and Austintown within a year.
He said Advance officials questioned him about his lack of experience when he approached them about leasing the bays.
"I told them, 'You give me a good team, my managers, and I can manage the management,'" he said.
His manager is Chris Fellenger, who has been in the business 18 years and worked with Caldwell's sons at a former Western Auto repair shop. Caldwell's son Jason is assistant manager.
The decision to open the business was a risky one for Caldwell and his wife, Rhonda.
"We did a lot of praying about this. It took everything we have to open this up," he said.
Sees a need: Caldwell, 49, who lives in Howland and grew up in Coitsville, said they think it will work because Mahoning Valley residents are tired of doing business with chain stores and will welcome a locally owned shop.
"There's always room for a business that's honest and fair with customers. It's just going to take a while for people to realize we're here," he said.
The Boardman shop has seven bays and 10 employees. Caldwell said it is not open on Sunday because that is the "Lord's day" and he wants employees to be able to enjoy activities away from work.
Caldwell continues to work for Fire Foe Corp., going over the fire protection needs of businesses.
Changes: The Boardman store was built about 10 years ago as a Western Auto, which was owned by Sears. The giant retailer then revitalized its Sears auto centers and sold Western Auto. The stores were bought by Parts America, which then merged with Advance.
Caldwell said he had the idea of leasing the bays when they closed in 1995 with the sale of Western Auto. A friend who works for Advance told him recently the bays were now being leased, so he pursued the idea.
Caldwell said his store is the 54th one in the country to be leased. Advance has 1,400 stores, but not all have repair bays.