After a brutal winter, Minnesotans know it’s time to tend to our vehicles. And for metro area residents there’s no better place than the locally owned Bobby & Steve’s Auto World, boasting a long and storied history, with eight convenient locations nearby all our readership neighborhoods – Downtown, South Minneapolis, West Minneapolis, Columbia Heights, Bloomington, West Bloomington, Eden Prairie, and the newest location remodel, in West St. Paul, scheduled to reopen in this month.
Colorful Bobby Williams is founder, senior partner, and common owner. Growing up on a farm just south of Mora, Minn., Bobby attended the University of Minnesota, then bought his first gas station in the early 1960s. The ongoing success of his venture fueled his confidence to buy more stations around the metro area. In 1975, a fellow named Steve Anderson called with a tip about a Shell station for sale at 494 and France Avenue in Bloomington. Steve soon became Bobby’s first partner, and by 1996, the two men opened the first Bobby and Steve’s Auto World at that very location. The company now operates with four other partners.
Meet Allen Sando
On chilly March morning, I sat down with Allen Sando, operations leader of Bobby & Steve’s Auto World’s iconic, two-story Downtown location on Washington Avenue. It’s hard to miss this flagship station, highly visible from the busy intersection of I94 and I35W.
Sando grew up with the company, joining Bobby & Steve’s Auto World in 2000, starting as a light service technician, and rising quickly to become the leader of that department. Promoted in 2004 to Service Leader, he explains that he ran the best service department in the company for several years. His hard work paid off when he was promoted to his current position.
Leadership in an evolving industry
Speaking of leadership, prominent on Sando’s desk were leadership books that caught my eye. I inquired about the evolving role of the traditional service station in the technical age.
Sando explains that his shop holds weekly leadership meetings where staff discuss not only business opportunities and positive trends in the business, but also are encouraged to read leadership books and articles. “We discuss what we read, how it relates to our work, and how we can best develop our team members,” he states. “I’m working to make our team the strongest we can be to serve our customers to the fullest potential.”
That type of management creates an atmosphere of respect for workers, making it easier to recruit good people. “Our own team members recruit their friends and family, telling them how great a company this is to work for, and how much fun we have,” Sando says. Notably, the company does a lot of promoting from within. “Additionally, a lot of our employees come from word of mouth – customers who say, ‘well, this looks like a fun place to work,’ and just apply.”
Focusing on the future, it seems likely that the grease and lube work of the auto mechanic is increasingly in the rear-view mirror as more electric vehicles hit the roads, running on computer chips.
I ask Sando how the industry is preparing for servicing the surge of electric vehicles. “Our technicians are receiving ongoing training and education to adapt to the changing makes and models,” he replies. “And we’re installing two charging stations at our remodeled location in West St. Paul. In time, I’m sure you’ll see more at other locations.”
Spring tune ups. What should car owners be doing now?
Minnesota’s temperature extremes require servicing our vehicles regularly. Spring and fall are the right times, according to Sando. We discuss what regular maintenance auto owners should consider as we shift into spring.
Fluids are the lifeblood of your vehicle, Sando cautions. “When a fluid is low or out of specifications it can cause harm to the corresponding components. When we perform an oil change on a car, all fluids are inspected and topped off. If any fluids need changing due to condition of manufacturer recommendation, we’ll recommend that.”
What about testing the battery? “We recommend you have your battery tested twice a year,” he continues. “Before the heat of the summer and the cold of the winter – our extreme temps can cause a battery to fail. Also,” he adds, “we have seen a large increase of people driving less during the pandemic. Letting your car sit for longer periods of time can also cause it to fail. A battery not getting fully charged regularly can cause it to fail also.”
Full confession! That’s exactly what happened to your columnist! I learned that my lack of driving over the past months had seriously depleted my new battery. Lucky for me, it was still under warranty, so I got to chat with technician, Paul Edgar, as he tested then replaced it. From now on I’ll follow his recommendation to take my car for a spin for at least a half-hour each week to keep it fully charged!
Oh yes, it’s essential to check your tire pressure at this time of year, too.
What about headlights? My older model Honda CV-R’s plastic lenses seemed foggy. Sando explains that lights are another item inspected during their oil change service. “For foggy lenses we provide a service that restores headlight assemblies that have become worn from weather and road hazards to their original condition.” I invested in this service and see a noticeable improvement. Another worthwhile consideration is to install newer LED lamps for better nighttime visibility.
Moving down my list, I asked when we need new wiper blades and air filters? Sando suggests that wipers can be checked by simply lifting them away from the windshield and inspecting the rubber blade. He adds that a good rule of thumb is to replace the blade if it streaks when using the washer fluid. Air filters are inspected during the oil change, and it’s recommended to replace them every 15,000 miles.
While not a requirement, it’s wise to keep your machines clean. Winter’s salt and sand can wreak havoc on your auto’s finish. I topped my spring inspection off with Bobby & Steve’s Auto World’s car wash, which still features the personalized touch of humans who provide a smile and initial rinse.
How to choose a reputable service station
One of the top questions on the minds of the average car owners having their vehicle serviced is how to determine that the service is reputable? Many people fear being oversold or scammed to replace things not needed, or worse, that the service isn’t being performed.
I ask Sando for his advice for consumers. “Ask questions,” he emphasizes. “If you are unsure about a recommended service, ask why it is important and what benefits it has. In our shop we use digital inspections. This allows us to take pictures of parts that need to be replaced. We also have the capability to send videos showing exactly what we are recommending. This helps build trust that what we are recommending is fully understood by our customers.”
He added, “Serving people is the most important part of Bobby and Steve’s Auto World. We work hard every day to provide world class service.”
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