July 03, 2013 - If you ask Pete Franks what led to his retirement from fixing brakes and working on the front-ends of cars? The 72 year-old will smile and say "old age and white hair."
Former Oxford Brake & Front End owners JoAnn and Pete Franks (left) and new owners Bill and Lynn Steffey, who have renamed the shop as West Side Brakes & Front End. Photos by Trevor Keiser (click for larger version)
After 33 years of owning and operating Oxford Brake & Front-End, Pete and his wife JoAnn have decided to hand over the keys to new owners Bill and Lynn Steffey.
"We have pondered that for a long time. (Over the last) two or three years, we've had other opportunities, but we weren't quite ready, but I think we're ready now," Pete said. "It's to the point where I've resigned to the fact that it's over. We've run this long enough."
Prior to starting Oxford Brake & Front End, Pete worked at Greenfield Tire and Brake in Rochester for 12 years before going to work for Chevrolet Engineering for three years.
When Pete got bored of that, he decided to go into business for himself.
"Everybody thought we were nuts, but we tried it anyway. We closed up another business that we had uptown (Joe's Body Shop) and put all of our efforts into this back in 1980 when we were in the middle of a big recession," he said. "Our philosophy was if people don't buy new cars, they fix the old cars. That's always worked over the years and has been successful."
JoAnn, who took care of the shop's administrative duties, said they started out as a "one-man brake shop."
"I wasn't even here half of the time," she noted.
But each year, business would grow a little more and they had to get more help.
"Over the years, we've had a few people work here that were really good," Pete said. "In the last 10 to 15 years, we had our son Brian in here working, which worked out really well for him and for us, too."
Eventually it got to the point where JoAnn had to be there all the time as well.
"This would not have worked without her here. She is the brain," Pete said. "I may have fixed a car once in a while, but she was the one that kept the business mechanism turning."
Pete and JoAnn, who have been Lake Orion residents since 1972, said they have no grand plans of traveling or moving out of state in their retirement. They will just stick around the area.
"Our idea of moving north is someplace between here and Lapeer," he said, who noted he and JoAnn are originally from the Thumb Area. "It's hard to go from the hustle and bustle and high activity down to the quiet little town again. Everything we want to do is around here and down here, so we're just going to stay in the area. Plus, our kids are around here too."
"We have our first grandbaby coming," JoAnn added. "That's our big thing."
As far as advice for the new owners, Pete said being a family-owned business and competing against big franchise companies can be difficult, but the key to their success was simply "to treat people like you'd like to be treated," as well as just being honest with folks.
"It's a simple thing," he added. "You do that the first time you'll get them the second time. It's been successful for us and can be successful for them."
As new owners, Bill said they are "nervous, but excited all at the same time," but beyond that, they are just "thankful."
"It is an unbelievable opportunity for a mechanic that wants to break away from being under the thumb of the Man and start living the 'American Dream' and own their own business," he said. "A fully-furnished shop with all the equipment and everything, you just don't find it."
With 25 years of mechanical experience, the majority of it was gained at Pontiac Lake Service in White Lake, which was a family-owned and operated business much like Oxford Brake & Front End.
"I love those people," Bill noted. "They gave me a lot of years of really good experience in the real world of fixing cars."
Lynn said they are also excited to be back in the Oxford community. Both Bill and Lynn were 1989 OHS graduates, but they were not "high school sweethearts."
"I was in love with her all through high school, but I probably would have threw-up in my shoes if I tried to approach her and talk to her," Bill said. "I was a different person back then and I couldn't bring myself to do it."
The two ended up meeting up at their 15-year high school reunion.
"The reunion didn't happen, but we met anyway and it sparked from there," Lynn added. "We've been married for seven years and we have five kids (two each from separate marriages and fifth one together)."
Lynn said working at the brake shop will be a new experience for her because she graduated from college and art school, She has been a freelance artist the past 20 years.
"I've got his back for as much as I can and (am) going to learn along the way," she said. "I am going to be the friendly face and send the work to him. He is going to be the expert in the back."
Bill agreed that he thinks it will be a good partnership.
"Put the looks and personality up front and leave the monster in the back," he said jokingly.
While Bill and Lynn hope to carry on the same family values, friendly service and tradition of treating people how they should be as Pete and JoAnn have done for the past 33 years, the one thing they won't be continuing with is the name Oxford Brake & Front End.
"We're letting Pete and JoAnn take (the name) Oxford Brake & Front End with them," Bill said.
Instead, they will be known as West Side Brakes & Front End.
Being the artsy type, Bill said Lynn was coming up with all sorts of names, none of which he felt fit.
"I needed something simple and generic and I didn't want my name out front," he said. "I never did like that 'Bill's Auto' or 'Bob's Auto.'"
So, after much thought and contemplation, Bill and Lynn agreed on West Side Brakes & Front End.
"We're on the west side of M-24, so that's what we're sticking with," he said. "That's how that came about. I just wanted something real generic."
Other than the name, the biggest change has been in the office with the addition of a new computer and printer along with wireless internet.
As far as the public goes, Bill said "Come on in"
For more information, please call (248) 628-3262, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or check out West Side Brakes & Front End on Facebook
Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.