Family, community keep Allison Garage humming

Friday, Aug. 10, 2018 4:32 PM
The Simons family has operated the Allison Garage since 1968.
Robert Simons Sr. and his wife, Ethel, will celebrate their 63rd wedding anniversary on Sept. 23, a little over a month after they celebrated the 50th anniversary of the opening of their auto shop, the Allison Garage.
Robert "Bobby" Simons Jr. says treating each customer honestly and billing only for actual work done, not using industry-standard pricing, was the key to building Allison Garage's loyal clientele.

If there's a secret to longevity and success in a small business, the Simons family, who have run Allison Garage for 50 years, certainly have found it.

Heading down Colorado 151, just before you enter the little community near Navajo Reservoir, you're likely to miss the auto shop if you're not attentive to the large number of cars parked in front of their four-bay garage.

Allison Garage has no business sign.

"A delivery truck knocked it down about 10 years ago," Robert Simons Sr. said. "There's never been any reason to replace it."

Simons Sr. and his son, Robert "Bobby" Simons Jr., have never advertised.

Bobby, who took over the day-to-day operations of the garage in 1979, said the shop has always had more business than it can handle.

Clientele from southeast La Plata County, even a regular customer from faraway Silverton, keep the Simonses and their two employees, Alex Lopez and Andy Betzer, busy.

"We've known Alex and Andy since they were boys," Robert Sr. said. "We know their families," added Ethel, Robert Sr.'s wife of 62 years. "It's a good community."

What everything boils down to for the Simons' operation is honesty, family and community.

"It's been fun. It's been a good life, a rural life, which most people like once they see it and live it," Robert Sr. said. "Most locals have cars with 100,000-plus miles. They don't have new vehicles, and they drive them until they drop, then they get the next one."

The family's way of spreading their message is from the lips of one satisfied customer to the ears of a neighbor or a friend with an automotive glitch they can't fix.

The computer age has bypassed the shop, where everything, from customers' tickets to the bookkeeping, which is handled by Ethel, is done with pens and paper.

"We keep printing shops in business," Robert Sr. said.

Robert Sr. started the shop in 1968 after arriving from the San Gabriel Valley in California. He found Allison while in search of better schools for his children and a better quality of life. His first choice for relocation was Colorado, which he remembered from a stint in 1958-59, when he was stationed at Fort Carson Army Base near Colorado Springs.

The business flow is pretty simple: Call the Simonses and set up an appointment and get in line.

Sometimes people will come in with a limping vehicle and employees will do a quick diagnostic then set up the appointment.

On Friday, the Simons family had some burgers, hot dogs and beverages at the shop and invited the community to celebrate 50 years in business. Ethel organized a raffle for a few prizes.

"I thought 50 years in business was worth a celebration of some sorts," Robert Sr. said.

The company's founder still gets out a wrench once in a while, but now a lot of his time is spent on the road with Ethel in their 40-foot RV.

Most shops use a flat-rate manual to price jobs, but the Allison Garage usually beats the rates in the manual.

"We bill only for the actual work we do. With the flat-rate manual, you get hit for a lot of work that really doesn't happen," Bobby said.

The formula has kept advertising costs at zero and the computer age as an unnecessary complication.

"We've been lucky. We've made money every day we've been open," Robert Sr. said. "Not a lot of money, but always a little bit."

At 82, he is content.

"This business has been a godsend for us. We raised a family with lots of grandkids and now great-grandkids coming behind.

"Everyone's a good mechanic. My daughters are as good a mechanic as you'll find," he said.