At a time when mom-and-pop shops are dwindling, Graeves Auto and Appliance is going strong.
Owner Scott Graeves, 53, credits the success of his business to ideals passed on from his father, which he’s now passing on to his own son, Kyle.
While much has changed since the family-owned Graeves Tire and Appliance store opened in Wheaton 60 years ago, familiar faces and good business practices have remained constant at the shop, now located in Olney.
His father, Ralph Graeves, grew up in Wheaton. After working for B.F. Goodrich, he opened his tire and appliance store on University Boulevard near Georgia Avenue in 1952, at 22.
“It was a tire and home supply store, carrying items ranging from televisions to lawn mowers,” said Scott, who began working there full time in 1975.
Scott, a 30-year Olney resident, attended John F. Kennedy High School and Montgomery College, before taking over the business after his father died in 1990. He said the combination of tires and home products was not usual at the time, and is still very common in the western United States.
He moved the store to its North High Street location in 1994, because he wanted to own the property, he said. In addition to tires and auto repair, he also sells General Electric and Maytag appliances.
Following in the family’s footsteps, son Kyle, 24, began working in the shop three years ago, after graduating from Sherwood High School in Silver Spring and Towson University.
“That’s the way we do it, you start in the shop and work your way up,” said Scott, who worked in the shop himself for 18 years.
Kyle said that he felt no pressure to join the family business, but did it because he enjoys working on cars.
“I never liked it as a kid, and everyone thought my younger brother would do this because he was the one who always got dirty, but once I picked it up, I never stopped,” said Kyle.
Scott said customer service is what sets his business apart from many other repair shops.
The shop is open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day, and Scott personally makes a point of being around when customers are dropping off or picking up their cars.
As for the appliance portion of the business, Graves strives to deliver purchases the next day, a service that most big-box stores can’t match. Appliance sales make up about 15 percent of the business, Scott said.
He also credits his success to great employees — most of the mechanics have worked there for more than 20 years, and the counter employees have been there for 15 to 20 years.
“There’s not a lot of turnover, and I could have not have made it this far without my employees,” said Scott.
The employees aren’t the only ones who have been loyal. Scott said he has customers come in whose cars he used to work on years ago, and now their children are bringing their cars. There are quite a few customers that come in each week to visit, just to talk and have coffee.
A model businessman
Scott also thanks the Olney community for its support. He has remained active with the Olney Chamber of Commerce, and was recognized by the organization as the 2006 Business Person of the Year.
“Scott's father believed that to be a good businessman you need to be a part of the community, and when Scott moved their business to Olney he continued in his father's footsteps,” said former Olney Chamber Executive Director Virginia Mauk. “He continually gives back to the community whether it is donating an item for a raffle or silent auction to the Chamber or a community group, donating to the Olney Police Satellite Station, or helping someone in need.”
Mauk said Scott Graeves is an example of what all business owners should aspire to be.
“The Olney community is better thanks to Scott's generosity and community spirit,” she said.
He was also the recipient of the GOCA Good Neighbor Award, presented to him in 2005 for two acts of generosity.
He donated a washing machine to a family in need, and authorized his employees to provide emergency roadside assistance to a young woman who was stranded alone at night, although it is not a service that the business typically provides.
Current Chamber Executive Director Jon Hulsizer agreed that Scott Graeves has been a constant supporter of the Chamber and other community organizations.
“To keep his business viable, he has maintained a level of service that was the norm in previous generations,” said Hulsizer.
“I try to give back to the community, and I always will because that is how we got here,” said Scott.
He said he and Bob Fletcher, owner of Fletcher’s Service Station located across the street, work together. Between the two businesses, they have more than 110 years of service in the county.
“If Bobby can’t get to something, he will call me, and if I can’t get to something I will call him,” he said. “We are friends. That’s the way things used to be years ago.”
“When Scott’s dad and my dad started, they knew everybody from working on their cars, so Scott and I learned that as kids,” Fletcher said. “Olney has grown, so there is enough business for each of us. The whole idea is to keep our customers satisfied, and if we can help each other do that, then it is good for both businesses.”
While computers and scanners have changed car repairs over the years, Scott remembers words of wisdom passed down from his father.
“Always listen to your customers, and always be honest — those are the top priorities,” he said. “And be willing to put in long hours, because you only get out of it what you put into it”