When he was 16, he started pulling spark plugs and gave cars tune-ups in his dad’s repair shop in downtown Olympia.
When he was 22 and just out of college with two degrees, he told his dad he wanted to open his own auto repair shop.
“My dad said what do you want to do that for?” Brett said.
Instead of opening his own shop, he worked in his dad’s shop for five years. Then, with that experience under his belt, Brett opened his own repair shop in 1987, determined to make it work.
Today, Brett is managing Tumwater Automotive, a repair shop he opened at its present site on Capitol Boulevard in 1991. He’s built his successful business on customer satisfaction.
“Our focus has never been about the money,” Brett said. “It’s about doing things right. It’s about giving back.”
It’s also about friendships. Brett doesn’t think of the people who bring their cars to his shop just as customers. He also sees them as friends.
“My guys work on the same person’s car all the time,” said Brett, a 1976 Tumwater High School graduate. “They build a relationship with the customer. They know the car. They know the people.”
“I always wanted to run my own car wash,” Brett said.
He turned that business over to Denise, his wife. She named it and came up with weekly promotions. On Tuesdays, it’s lady’s day and they get chocolate. Then there’s days customers get $2 off for bringing in canned food for the food bank.
“We’ve very involved community wise,” Brett said. “Helping is way more rewarding than making money. If you do the right thing, everything takes care of itself.”
A couple of years ago, Brett’s repair shop won a prestigious General Motors Award, which is given once a month to shops across the country. It’s awarded to repair shops that score high in customer service, integrity, a clean shop and the quality of mechanics.
Two of Brett’s mechanics have been with him for 20 years.
“I think you need a job that you’re passionate about,” Brett said. “I love going to work every day. I love the people. I love the challenge. I love the relationships. We have people who come from Seattle, from Hood Canal. They drive all the way here to have their cars worked on.”
And to meet a longtime friend, Brett and his mechanics. Tom Victor worked for Brett’s dad and has worked for Brett for the past 19 years. Mike Sallee has been a mechanic with Tumwater Automotive for 20 years. Mike Senko and Matt Madden have over 20 years each as mechanics and joined Tumwater Automotive in the last couple of years.
“We’ve had people work for us for a long time,” Denise said. “We don’t have a lot of turnover.”
In the repair shop, Brett employs eight mechanics. In the car wash, he employs another 13, including his wife, Denise. She runs the car wash, doing the books and making the schedules. After being a teacher, it’s a new challenge she’s embraced.
Tumwater Automotive works on all makes of cars, domestic and foreign. Sports cars or sedans. Trucks or jeeps. If it’s got wheel, Brett will work on it. And he’ll be honest and fair.
“I hate to admit it, but doctors and auto mechanics are not places people want to go,” Brett said. “So, we want to make it at least a good experience.”
Brett never has any hidden charges. He always shows his customers the parts he’s replaced. And he’s always willing to admit when he made a mistake, even when he really didn’t. That happened a couple of years ago when a teenaged driver brought in his car that Brett thought was worth maybe $500. The car was running rough and one of Brett’s mechanics tightened a clamp on the carburetor and didn’t charge him.
“Someone had put the hose clamp on wrong. It was loose,” Brett said.
After the adjustment, the throttle stuck wide open. It burned up the engine.
“The dad calls me and said we caused it,” Brett said.
Rather than duck the accusation, Brett had a rebuilt engine put in at no charge.
“The dad couldn’t believe it,” Brett said. “We just felt we had some responsibility.”
And that’s how Brett has run his repair shop all these years. Fairly and honestly. He always treats every customer the same – as if they were his best friend. It’s the only way he knows how to do business. That’s why customers (friends) keep coming back.
Address: 6020 Capitol Boulevard
Hours open for the car wash: summer to fall – Monday-Saturday 8 a.m.-7 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; winter to spring – Monday-Saturday 8 a.m.- 6 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.