BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – In our current global business economy and mega car lots, it’s comforting to know that you can still take your car to the local garage to get a tune up.
Clark and Nannette Griffin wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Griffin’s, who own Griffin Muffler and Brake Center at 535 Avenue G are celebrating two decades taking care of area residents’ vehicles and helping with other causes.
But back to the global economy, no you can’t really put your car online and get it fixed but social media and YouTube have made self-repair a more common attempt, and large car dealerships are offering a full range of services to keep customers rolling into their lots. So how is this family owned corner station so wildly popular with locals.
“I have worked for almost 20 years for different dealerships and was a traveling manager in eastern Iowa< Nannette Griffin said. “Our experiences taught us what was good and not so good about larger organizations. We feel we can provide the same quality of service, excluding new vehicle warranty, as dealerships but with more personal service. We have launched a loyalty program so customers can earn a credit towards future repair.”
Both Nannette and Clark grew up working on cars as what they thought was a hobby but ended up being learning a trade that was to be the road to their future.
“My parents have been my biggest supporters, especially my dad. As a young girl, I was always by his side tinkering in the garage asking him countless questions about how things worked,” she said. “I developed my love of cars from him. He told me I could grow up and be anything I wanted to be. Clark’s father had a repair and body shop along with a salvage yard and towing. His cousin owns a dealership that was started by his uncle. Anything automotive has been a way of life in his family. It’s in our blood.”
It was so much a way of their life that the courtship actually took place over a distributor cap, spark plugs and a carborator. Because they were around cars since they were teenagers, they didn’t have time for much else.
“When I met Clark, he worked on cars at a friend’s shop at night. If I wanted a “date night” I would have to hang out with him and help,” Griffin said. “After we were married, we missed working on cars together so we decided to build our first shop. After our day jobs, we would work on cars at night. We decided to go into business and opening night was Feb 1, 1997.”
In 1998, the Griffins’ hired their first staff of two and opened their shop for regular business hours. Then in 2002 a Fort Madison businessman, Mike Watson asked the Griffin’s if they had an interest in purchasing his shop on the corner of Avenue G and Sixth Street. They took him up on the offer, and added an addition to the building so they could install a 14-ton lift so they could do exhaust work on RVs and firetrucks without having to crawl under the units on the ground. That project was completed and the store celebrated an opening day in July 2003.
Since that time the Griffins have expanded to a staff of six, have added three more bays, for a total of five. Services started with exhaust and brakes and has expanded to complete auto service and repair including diagnostics. The Griffins and their staff are constantly upgrading their skills and education to be able to provide top-not service and keep up with automotive technology advancements and training.
Griffin said understanding the industry is just as important as understanding how to fix the vehicles. So, to that end, the Griffins close the first week of March and travel to Kansas City for four days of high-tech traininng and management. Nannette said the networking and discussion during those sessions have enabled them to provide a better service environment for their customers.
But the 20 years haven’t been without difficulties including a fire that basically destroyed the building on Dec. 16, 2007.
“It was one of the most devastating things we have gone through,” she said. “We both believe God never gives us more than we can handle and took this tragedy and turned it into something better. When we decided to rebuild, it gave us an opportunity to design a more efficient building. We have been able to not only expand the building but also our services. First time customers to this day still comment on how pleasant the waiting area is. They expect an old greasy gas station. We wanted to be different from all the rest, hence our motto “Experience the Difference”. The best complement has been when a competitor sent his wife and mother in to take pictures so they could get some ideas on how to design their waiting area.”
Nannette also said it’s tough to find qualified technicians and qualified automtive educators. She said nationally the industry is about 40,000 short on technicians and 20,000 short on educators. The old adage the kids that weren’t going to college went into auto mechanics program, but now Nannette says those people have to be proficient in math and science to keep up with the technology.
” I heard a statement once that said, today’s technicians must be educated like a doctor because when is the last time a child was born with a different spleen? Today’s technicians are like a doctor and sometimes a specialist to your vehicle,” Nannette said. “Clark and I are considering ways we can help interest today’s youth in looking at auto tech as a career. Our vehicles carry some of the most precious cargo, family, and it’s more important than ever we have qualified technicians keeping the safe on the road.”
Nannette said her biggest success has been being able to work side by side with her husband and still love what they do. She was also honored with a diploma from the Automotive Management Institute in Detroit during an expo. She wore and cap and gown in a nod to her future at the General Motors Heritage Center and was surrounded by vintage and American muscle cars and her vision for the future is to continue to exceed expectations in service and education and to go virtually paperless in 2017. Face-to-face friendly service coupled with using technology to communicate with customers to simply their lives as well as make the business more efficient.
The Griffins have also been very big in Fort Madison volunteer circles. Nannette was instrumental in organizing the Balloons Over the Mississippi and the two are involved with local service organizations and practice environmental stewardship.
“Clark and I have had the philosophy of giving back to the community that supports us,” she said. “It was a rewarding experience to have organized the Balloons over the Mississippi for almost ten years. As our daughter became more involved with school activities, we became more involved with volunteering with her. Now that she is in college, we have more time again to volunteer. Clark serves as a trustee for the Elks and a committee member for Pheasants Forever. I recently joined the benefits committee at the Chamber and look forward to getting out and meeting with other businesses. We would encourage others to do what they can in the community.”
Nannette said she wanted to thank her loyal employees and wonderful customers and invite those that haven’t done business with them to give them a try.
“We’re a family owned and operated business and we offer a 24-month, 24,000 mile parts and labor warranty on most repairs that is honored at 7,600 locations. Techs are ASE certified and we offer same-day service on most repairs. We also offer free wi-fi and shuttle service or free pick up and delivery in the Fort Madison area. Our Loyalty program allows our customers to earn 5% of every invoice to used towards future services.”
Visit Griffin’s website at www.griffinmuffler.com or call 319-372-2478 to schedule your appointment.