Albuquerque, NM is a city of contrasts. Though located in the southwestern United States, its elevation as the highest metropolitan city in the country means there are four distinct seasons to the year. And, while it boasts a vibrant, growing, modern city center, the city is over 300 years old officially and the area has welcomed visitors for more than 10,000 years.
Peter Goldberg hasn’t been around since prehistoric days, but he does pride himself on his shop’s commitment to customer service.
“I’ve got customers who come from all over the state,” brags the owner of Pete’s Auto Care. “I’ve got a customer who comes from Colorado; I’ve got another customer who moved to Amarillo, TX, and nearly 300 miles back to Albuquerque to have us do oil changes. I treat my customers like they’re family.”
A study in contrasts himself, the native Burqueño opened his shop in 1998, after graduating from The University of New Mexico with a degree in criminology and communications.
“Like a lot of people, I started working on cars when I was young,” says Goldberg. “I worked at a garage and at a restaurant during college. I went into work at the restaurant one day and my boss told me ‘You’re going to have to make a choice between working here or working at a shop because we can’t have you coming in with greasy fingernails.’ I chose the shop. Following college, I thought, ‘Hey, I graduated college!’ – of course I decided to open up a shop of my own.”
The decision to open his shop was simple – the process of doing so, not so much. “I thought I had all my credits to graduate, so in July of 1998 I got a loan and opened up a three-bay shop near downtown Albuquerque. Come to find out, I was one credit short,” Goldberg says.
He took a night class to get that final credit while he started building his shop’s reputation. “My dad helped out answering the phones for me while I got everything rolling,” Goldberg recalls.
Goldberg and his father would go to lunch every Tuesday and talk about the shop. Though his grandfather had a garage, Goldberg’s father did not have shop experience. “In addition to helping with customer service, he served as my business consultant. I’d always bounce ideas off of him and he’d say ‘yay’ or ‘nay.’ And I’d take his advice most of the time, but sometimes as a 25 year old, I didn’t. I’ve come to find out that he was mostly right all the time.”
One of the things the Goldbergs agreed on back then was the need for a new facility.
“We had one other guy helping and we muddled along for about three or four years, getting busier and busier. Unfortunately, my shop was not in the nicest neighborhood, so we kept getting robbed. The shop that I had worked for in college had closed down,” Goldberg says. “It was empty for years, and I decided to go talk to the landlord and rented it in Feburary of 2003.”
The new shop was an old mess, Goldberg recalls. “It had an oil change pit in it, but no lifts. It was just concrete and four walls. There was some plumbing for air lines, so we brought in all our own lifts and equipment and started working. We tried to use the oil pit for a while, but we kept finding that it really wasn’t worth our time – we could make more money having an actual bay.”
A compacted load of dirt and a newly poured concrete floor and Pete’s Auto Care finally had three lifts and an alignment rack, ready for almost any type of automotive service.
“We do everything from tires to brake jobs to electrical repairs, up to engine replacements,” says Goldberg. “We mostly work on American, Japanese and Korean cars, though we will do chassis work on diesels and even German cars for some of our really good customers.”
Goldberg says his team has been together since the beginning. “Phil Vigil has been with me almost 20 years. CJ George, my service writer and shop manager, has been with me for 17 years – he started with me when he was 16. Actually, that’s kind of a funny story because my mom was friends with his grandma, and his grandma asked my mom if we needed any help in the shop? I thought, ‘oh, no – what am I getting into here with this favor?’ Well, CJ turned out to be just a phenomenal guy.
“And then my GS guy, Arturo Desantiago, has been with me for almost three years. He went to vocational school here and does all my tire work, all my oil changes, and shop maintenance,” Goldberg says.
“Phil is a specialist in front end work, as well as engines and transmissions. CJ is skilled in electrical work and diagnostic work. [And] I do just about everything,” he says.
Goldberg explains that, due to a current staffing shortage, both he and CJ serve as service advisors and technicians. “We go back and forth. We’re downstairs fixing cars; we’re upstairs answering phones and setting up appointments and handling customers.”
Hectic, yes, but Goldberg acknowledges the role his team plays in his shop’s success.
“You know, my shop wouldn’t be where it’s at if it wasn’t for my guys. It’s not just me. It’s all of them putting in the effort, putting in the extra time and putting in 110%. I can’t take credit for all of it.”
The shop operates Monday – Thursday from 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM and on Friday from 7:00 AM to 4:00 PM. The early close on Friday is good for Goldberg and his team, he says.
“We’re booked out usually about a week and a half, so even that little bit of time gives my guys a break. It’s nice to start the weekend, even if it’s just an hour on Friday,” he says.
“I think it really helps them. They get home, they get to enjoy some time before it gets too dark. And then, sometimes in the summer, we’ll periodically close on a Friday so we can have a three-day weekend.”
Goldberg says the past year and a half has been challenging for the shop because of Covid restrictions, but after a brief shutdown at the beginning of the pandemic, Pete’s Auto Care started going to the customers, not waiting for them to come to the shop.
“At the beginning, we decided, we’ll do breakdowns and where people can’t get to where they’re going. That quickly morphed back into pretty normal shop operations. April 2020 was a pretty bad month, but by July we were back close to where we were before. We’re not all the way back – I don’t know if it’s COVID-related or if people are still working from home, so they’re not driving their cars – but we’re not down that much. Right now we’re on track to beat last year, and last year we were down probably about 8 or 9 percent. So, we’re on track to being back to where we were pre-COVID.”
Goldberg admits there were months that were scary, but thanks to his team, his customers and his suppliers – particularly Andy Dietz and Parts Plus New Mexico – “We’ve walked out of the pandemic virtually unscathed.
“Andy is my first call for all my parts, but it has been tough to get some parts. We’re pretty particular about the way we do work. For example, we do synthetic oil changes, [and] we use a higher-end filter than when we’re doing conventional oil changes, but filters have been a problem,” Goldberg say.
Keeping his shop’s reputation high requires daily commitment to many factors, but Goldberg says his advertising program is not one of them.
“I don’t do any advertising,” he says. “My advertising is word of mouth. Obviously, I have a website and a Facebook page, but I’m not too comfortable posting on social media.”
Goldberg believes a better use of his marketing dollars are at the local level. “Most of the time, I donate to the local schools, for their soccer, baseball and football teams. This is a small enough town where I see people I know everywhere, and I treat my customers as if I ran into them at a restaurant; I could sit and have a meal with them and not feel uncomfortable.”
The analogy isn’t just hypothetical – Goldberg says he regularly treats his customers to dinner in a local restaurant. And they reciprocate.
“I’ve got customers who bring us donuts, even though there’s a donut shop right next door to us. We’ve got customers who’ll bring us lunch and sit down and eat lunch with us,” he says.
“I’ve got customers who come up and give me a hug. They’ve watched my kids grow up. They know my dogs. Some of them have become lifelong friends – they’ve been my sounding board when I have issues and I’ve been their sounding board, too.”
In the end, Goldberg says, the contrast between customer and friend isn’t really very distinct.
“It’s just a great relationship. I love each and every one of them and I’m grateful for them,” he says. “They’re the ones who ultimately keep us working and they’re just fantastic.”