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Auto repair shop stays in family after 43 years

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By Amber Coulter

Roger Ewing didn’t set out to spend most of his life in the automotive repair business.

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The Elizabethtown resident grew up on a farm, where it was typical to fix things that broke.

“We worked on everything,” he said. “Fortunately, it runs in the family, I guess.”

Many of the skills Ewing has used as owner of Ewing Automotive Center Inc. on South Mulberry Street are lessons he learned from his father, who had the same mechanical inclination.

“My dad was one of those people who could do just about anything,” he said.

In 1969, setting up a gas station that offered general maintenance with his father, Boyd, was a simple way to exercise the skills of both men and help pay for Roger Ewing’s Elizabethtown Community College and University of Kentucky education.

Roger Ewing remembers those first five years of pumping gas and helping people when their cars had problems as some of the most enjoyable in the history of his business. It was even pleasant when he had to rush home from UK on Friday afternoons to help all weekend at the service station.

“It was great,” he said.

Roger Ewing thinks good days remain ahead as he approaches retirement and the business passes over the next few weeks into the hands of his second cousin, Dean Wolford.

The key is to carry on the quality and service that have been the most important tradition of the business for the past 43 years, he said.

Roger Ewing said the business has served good people, and his father demonstrated customer service that he thinks is the cornerstone of the business’s success. Boyd Ewing would lend money or pump free gas to customers in a tight spot and they would pay for it later.

He still prefers to think of the people he helps as customers, rather than the increasingly popular term “clients.” He associates the word “customers” with the attitude of serving people and being committed to giving them what they need.

“There’s plenty of need out there,” he said. “You don’t have to create need.”

That’s a premise Roger Ewing tried to remember when his father died of a heart attack at age 67 and he became sole owner of the family business.

“The only thing that changed was my dad wasn’t there,” he said. “That was hard.”

The garage isn’t the cheapest in the city, but customers mostly come from repeat business and referrals because they appreciate paying a reasonable amount for quality service, Roger Ewing said.

Some repeat customers began using Ewing Automotive soon after the family business’s first location opened in 1969.

The business has moved between four Elizabethtown locations since its establishment.

Roger Ewing said the business’s customers are so loyal that several called upset when they heard a rumor the garage would close after his retirement.

“We have the best customer base, period,” he said.

He doesn’t expect many changes to follow the switch at the helm because employees are encouraged to take responsibility and make their own decisions when working with customers, rather than waiting for a boss to make rulings.

That kind of close-knit and trusting employer-employee relationship is one thing that makes family-owned business different from chains, Roger Ewing said.

“We all have a stake in it,” he said. “You know where your paycheck comes from.”

Wolford, who inherited the family mechanical skill, has worked as a technician at Ewing Automotive for 26 years.

“I guess it’s in my genetics,” he said.

Wolford said he has no changes in mind except eventually changing the name to World Automotive to reflect the variety of cars serviced by the technicians there. Any changes that come will be few and slow, he said.

The most important parts of the company’s long history to maintain are a reputation for fairness and quality work and a dedication to treating customers well, he said.

Wolford’s son also works at Ewing Automotive, as a reminder of the father and son partnership that began the business’s first service station decades ago.

Amber Coulter can be reached at (270) 505-1746 or acoulter@thenewsenterprise.com.

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