In 12 days, the front doors at 445 Blake St swing open officially. Several thousand square feet of gleaming newness will extend its arms to its community. Standing quietly to the side, smiling, shaking hands, and greeting their business families will be two men approaching middle age.
Sounds reasonably ordinary. But it isn’t. It’s an exceptional story about two men who have marshalled their courage, matched it with their energy and grown a business that is clearly an anchor in Barrie’s east end.
Mike Schmidt and Ted Shaw were teenagers when they met at trade school, in auto mechanics at Centennial College. Because life is alphabetical and their last names fall together, they got paired for many of their in-class assignments.
Mike, from Sundridge, was a country boy clearly out of place in the city. Ted, from Barrie, had a little more city in him. But, not much more.
They graduated from Centennial and each went back home to perform their practical hours at garages… the final stage to their trade ticket.
But they were drawn back together and after working in the back shop at a Toronto dealership, they came to Barrie to do it for themselves. They looked at a boarded up garage on Blake St, with grass growing up to its window sills… the shell of a Shell station. They asked next door at the BP Station about who they might approach to buy the derelict building.
It turns out the BP station was also for sale. And the rest is history.
The boys were 22 years old when they began negotiations with the bank, concluding their business arrangements two years later through the Federal Business Development Bank and Bartko & Hall BP became Schmidt & Shaw (alphabetic order, of course). They took on a monthly debt of $8000, four employees, and an interest rate of 18.5%. The year was 1980.
Fast forward to 12 days from now when the boys are now crowding 50–in fact, Ted is a grandfather–and they’ll turn the key on a $2.8 million investment in land, buildings, licences, inventory, equipment, computers, state of the art benches, tools, and cars. The interest rate is a lot lower, and they’ve maintained their loyalty to the Business Development Bank, and they look almost as young as they did when they took on business ownership a quarter-century ago.
They’ve built a business essentially on three things:
While the support of their wives, kids and parents has given them the energy to put in the long days, Ted and Mike both feel good about what they’ve learned about running their business. When they bought it, they were new mechanics who knew how to fix cars. Now they know how to run the front of the operation, make the long range decisions, manage their business partnership, project sales, and keep several bays and six mechanics busy.
There have been lots of changes. Changes bring growth. Growth is preceded by decision. Usually, good decision.
In 1985, computer technology began its foray into businesses. The changeover started to occur in both parts of their business. The back shop, under the hood systems began to feel the effect of the microchip. The front office also felt the change. In 1992 the Spills Bill forced removal of old and installation of new inground fuel holding systems. Cost? $110,000. Technology began its impact at the cash register, too, and debit cards nudged cash and cheques out of the till. Mike says today they take in very little cash, but carry around a lot of paper.
By 2000, Schmidt & Shaw was the city’s only privately owned branded full service gas station in Barrie. Every other station was owned by one of the major oil companies. The pumps and service lanes were taking up valuable real estate space and not giving the financial return. Mike and Ted had ventured into selling a few “previously enjoyed” vehicles and the space consumed by gas pumps could house more moving car inventory.
They took the plunge and closed the pumps. They kept their repair customers and were able to sell more cars to more people, cars they continued to service. Car sales wasn’t an end of the business they had planned, really. Mike explains: “Our customers would ask us to check out a car for them, or ask advice on what kind of car to buy… it made sense to bring in cars we knew and trusted and offer them to customers who trusted us. June, 2000 was the last drop of gas pumped from their old location and cars quickly took over the space.
A year later Ted and Mike started to look at the old, empty Bertram property down the street. Hmmm. They could get out of the “temporary” sales trailer they’d used for eight years. They could bring in more cars, even offer an indoor showroom. They could add more service bays. They could anchor the east end with its only car dealership. They could. They could. They would. They have.
With the design skills of Ian Malcolm and the construction skills of Bertram Brothers, Ted and Mike feel good about construction jobs they¹ve initiated. They now employ 16 people in their brand, new, fabulous commercial home.
When they cut the ribbon November 25, many of their original customers will be applauding the event.
They have a partnership that’s built on respect for the yin and yang of their personalities and skills. They’ve built a community of customers who keep popping in to say “congratulations” and “wow, you guys!” They look up and down the street at their friends in businesses … the folks who own Sophies, the guys who fix computers, the multi-faceted million-item Robinsons Hardware… they are part of a celebrating community.
And to think it all started when a mechanics instructor paired them up because of their last names!
Bravo, guys. And, thanks!