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Family businesses thrive against the odds

Residents struggling in bleak economy appreciate old-fashioned service

Posted: February 18, 2009 11:34 p.m.
Updated: February 19, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Patrick Jouglet, left, R&S Automotive shop foreman, and Eddie Reinsma, Jouglet's brother-in-law and R+S owner, discuss the readings of a computer scanner hooked up to a high-performance engine in the shop.

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Several local mom-and-pop business owners say personal care and competitive prices attract a loyal client base and keep business stable or even booming for some shops.

Husband and wife, Mary and Mike Licitra, own and operate the 18-year-old Santa Clarita Valley Auto Specialist with the help of one employee and their daughter.

"A mom-and-pop shop has a feel for an average person going through a lot," Mary Licitra said. "People need to know their money is being spent properly, and they are getting the fairest deal out there."

The staggering economy has significantly lifted business for Auto Specialist on Soledad Canyon Road.

"About a year-and-a-half ago if people needed repair they said, ‘I'll just get a new car,'" Mary Licitra said.

"Now the economy is so bad ... people are putting a lot of money into their vehicles. Some people are living in their cars so they're putting money into it."

Tighter budgets mean more car owners will repair their vehicles rather than replace them, Licitra said.

"People are kind of between a rock and hard spot," Mary Licitra said. "Generally, when the economy is good our business really isn't that good but when the economy is bad, business is better."

Customers like Richard Szerman, of Newhall, said they appreciate the service.

Szerman recently took two of his vehicles to Auto Specialist after he became frustrated with the impersonal and expensive service he received from a larger local repair center.

"At SCV Auto they run the business smartly ... they take care of their clients," Szerman said. "Small mom-and-pops are much better run."

Szerman is a 10-year customer of Auto Specialist. He recalled a time when he began to write the shop a check for a repair, when the Licitra's informed him it was a warranty repair he could take care of for free at another shop.

"They got nothing out of it," he said. "They were just honest."

Family-owned R & S Automotive celebrated its 20th anniversary in January and has seen similar trends.

"In my business, it's stayed the same and maybe picked up a little," said co-owner Eddie Reinsma. "I attribute that because people are forced to fix their cars and not buy new."

Reinsma, who runs the Newhall shop with his wife, Michelle, also attributes their success to a friendly business motto. "I train my employees to treat their customers like family," Reinsma said. Over the years, the mini family-business grew to a team of 19 including Reinsma's brother- and mother-in-law and son.

John Lee, owner of Video Depot, in Newhall said in the midst of a bad recession, people are looking for a deal and a $2.49 movie rental offers just that.

Video Depot is more than 25 years old. About five years ago, major movie rental stores wiped out many privately owned movie-rental stores, Lee said.

"But they couldn't touch our store," he said. "Even at low costs, we are surviving. We're doing better actually. Me and my wife have a lot of loyal customers."

Owners of CBC Cleaning & Restoration, of Valencia, count loyal customers, too.

"We've been holding our own," said CBC's marketing and sales director, Mark Eggering. "We see a little hit (from the economy), but we feel lucky because a lot of businesses have gone out."

Eggering said the business's owners, Gordon and Debbie Glasnot, tried to establish a reputation of integrity and honesty in the last 30 years.

"Ninety percent of our business is repeat and referral, which sustains us and will get us through the tough times," Eggering said.

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