Just up the Pascagoula River from the Gulf of Mexico, Cole’s Service Center has been serving the automotive needs of residents of Vancleave, MS and Jackson County for 49 years. Family run since its foundation, Cole’s embraces its heritage and history as well as looking toward the future for its customers.
With deep roots spread throughout the town (12 aunts and uncles and over 50 first cousins), the Cole family has had an immense impact on their community. The road where the shop is located is even named after the family.
Co-owned by Deanna and Wes Cole, the shop was founded in 1973 by father Kenneth, who walked home on the road with his siblings many nights after football, baseball or basketball practice or games.
Cole’s currently has six employees, in addition to Wes and Deanna’s mom, who comes in every morning to take the money to the bank. According to Deanna, Mom also doubles as their Public Relations team. “She visits all of the customers and regales them with stories of Wes and I as children. She creates a friendly and engaging atmosphere for the office, which is one of the reasons why people keep coming back!”
Deanna credits DRIVE for much of the continued growth of her family’s business. After the flood caused by hurricane George in 1998, the shop had to be remodeled. It was also around this time that they found DRIVE, which helped the Coles realize their business plan needed to be remodeled as well. “DRIVE is the reason we are still open and successful,” Deanna says. “Our business coach helped me realize how valuable the shop really is.” Because of this, they started to charge properly for their services and saw an increase in profit. It was after this instance they committed fully to all the advice they were given.
“We were finally able to run the shop, instead of simply working in it,” Deanna says.
Before she started working with DRIVE, Deanna says her days were filled with unstopping stress. The tasks would pile up on the desk, only to be put off indefinitely. Now, she has a streamlined process coordinated with her dedicated staff that includes a shop manager, service advisor, social media manager and talented technicians to handle every need. Through this process the shop has become financially stable, the bills are paid and the shop’s equipment is in great shape. “We can also take time away from work,” Deanna says, “without having to plan months in advance”.
When not at the shop, Deanna is most likely to be found at her church. She’s the president of the Episcopal Church Women, a member of the Daughters of the King, the Alter Guild, the Flower Guild and she travels the state of Mississippi as Diocesan Coordinator for the Education for Ministry.
If you can’t find her at the church, Deanna is most likely working on her garden. She’s also proud to be a founding member of the local athletic association that created the Vancleave Athletic Hall of Fame, created to document the athletic heroes of her community dating back to the 1930s. The yearly banquet for the inductees is a premier event for the residents, especially the local athletes and coaches.
When the pandemic hit in early 2020, Cole’s Service Center made it a staple practice to reach out to the customers in their database to check in on them. There was no sales pitch attached, just a courtesy call to check in on their neighbors. Deanna describes it as genuine and authentic care, and these actions caused a huge wave of positive feedback. The efforts drove Cole’s to its biggest year in sales, at least until 2021 hit. By proving to their clientele that they are more than just a customer, the Coles created deeper connections and reaffirmed the trust they can have in the shop.
Making connections with customers isn’t the only important relationship Cole’s Service Center fosters. The team networks with fellow shop owners, and Deanna enjoys hearing about their wins, sharing stories about both the good and bad they’ve experienced. There’s always something new to learn about equipment, programs, and new industry trends and their shop is always looking for ways to improve.
“I love hearing about ways to better serve our customers, ways to be smarter for not only their benefit but the shop’s as well,” Deanna says.
She says she can’t wait to meet more owners and get a chance to, quite literally, talk shop with them at the DRIVE EXPO in August. Since she became a Master of Shop Management, she enjoys the EXPOs because of the “genuine communication between shop owners” that keeps bringing them back. Deanna calls it “inspiring” and says DRIVE has created an event that is “permeated with comradery and care for everyone.”
The Vancleave Choctaw Live Oak Indian Tribe was recently recognized, and the Cole family donated a piece of their property to them! Deanna and Wes are also looking forward to a formal celebratory ceremony later this year. Deanna shares that they’ve known most of the members all of their lives. They can’t wait for this dedication to happen this summer!