No Stopping his passion for Brakes
“Fixing Your Brakes Is Not Our Job, It Is Our Pleasure”
Except for a five-year hiatus, the Smith family has been repairing brakes in the Youngstown area since 1929.
Jim smith is a happy man. His auto brake repair business is thriving, he loves visiting with his customers as much as he loves his work, and he has plenty of time for his hobby- strumming the blues on his electric guitar.
“I do brakes. That's all I do, and I'm not going to change,” Smith said, leaning back in the chair in the small office next to his Boardman garage, his hands still stained with grease from the morning's work.
“I don't want to grow too big. I want to control my business. I don't wan't my business to control me,” he said.
Smith's stay-small philosophy seems to be a recipe for success.
New shop: His company, Smith Brake, has just moved from the 6600 block of Market Street to a larger, permanent location a few blocks down at 5325 Market.
He's seen his sales and customer totals grow 20 to 25 percent a year since he opened a shop in the garage of his Austintown home.
History: The brake repair business is a family tradition for Smith, whose grandfather Joseph opened the first Smith Brake & Parts Co. in 1929 on Lincoln Avenue in downtown Youngstown. Family members operated a parking deck first, then added the brake repair business as a service to their deck customers.
His father, Harold, and uncles, Ralph, Ed and Vic later ran the business, with a sideline specialty in brake repairs for the huge machines used in the steel mills and the amusement rides at Idora park. Smith did some odd jobs around the shop as a boy, but he was never interested in the business.
In 1974, he joined the shop, then located at Wick Avenue and McGuffey Road, and learned brake repair from his uncle Ralph. “I learned from the old-timers. I know tricks that most guys working in garages today have never heard of,” he said.
The shop closed in 1991, a victim of a declining economy, and Smith tried his hand at selling cars and insurance. He did well, but he didn't like the work, so he decided to revive the old family business name and set up the shop in his garage.
“I was scared, but I figured if I was going to be underpaid and under-appreciated, I might as well do it working for myself. I might as well be happy,” he said. “Doing brakes makes me happy.”
Loves chains: Smith said he doesn't mind the competitions from the area's national chain-operated auto repair shops.
“I love the chain stores. They're my best advertisement,” he said.
“People come in here with a $600 or $700 estimate from one of those places, and they leave here with the job done for $150 or $175. I do it right, for a fair price, and I don't charge for work they don't need. That's why I'm growing.”
by Cynthia Vinarsky
Vindicator Business Writer