Where have all the small businesses gone — long time passing?
These days, it's difficult for the little guy to scratch out a living while competing against national chain stores.
Just about everyone loves the prices and selection that the big-boxes have to offer. However, they just don't have the customer relationships of bygone eras, where we personally knew our service providers and their families. We trusted these folks, and in return they dedicated themselves to maintaining that positive relationship. Failure to do so would not only reflect on them, but their parents, wives and children as well.
Fortunately, we live in a city that's small enough to support people who still do things the old-fashioned way. One of them is B & B Tires and Auto Service on Cluff Avenue.
Its proprietor is Bret DeBerry. He runs the entire operation himself. This includes everything from major mechanical work to answering the phone.
Bret is no stranger to Lodi. He learned his trade while working many years for some of the bigger stores. His mom is Gigi DeBerry, who recently retired from the school district. She was a popular German teacher at Lodi High School.
DeBerry told me that being an independent businessman has its challenges.
"Taxes, environmental fees and insurance are all strains on my budget. California is especially difficult," he said.
DeBerry revealed the county business tax alone reflects a percentage of what government officials think his tools are worth. This fee can be as high as $15,000 per year!
"Just when I think I'm getting ahead, another bill from a federal, state or local tax collector comes in the mail," he lamented
Competing against the giants remains tough. Sometimes, DeBerry makes only $9 per tire. However, other times he can save customers big money by fixing things rather than replacing them. Once, a customer complained that the cheapest deal he could find to replace a heater core was $1,200. DeBerry was able to make a permanent repair for only $175.
On another occasion, he corrected an alignment and handling problem for a customer that the large stores just couldn't afford the time for analysis and resolution.
"I don't shaft people," he said. "If I did, they would tell their friends and wouldn't return. I can't afford to do business like that."
DeBerry loves to help people and plans to continue his operation as long as the bills can be paid. He states that his auto service and tire business are primarily based on customer loyalty and word of mouth.
Some small businesses still survive today because modern technology simply cannot replace the face-to-face, personal relationships that were so commonly found in the past. Repair facilities with a local customer base still have a place in our lives.
Bret DeBerry is just one example of why so many of us still appreciate a small city, independent service store.
Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.