At Union Street Automotive in Newark, New York (not to be confused with Newark, New Jersey), time stands still. For customers in the area, it’s a bit like “Groundhog Day,” if the movie was set in 1955 or so.
I’m talking about a full-service gas station – a rarity in and of itself – where the attendants will fill up your tank, check your oil, wash you windows and top off your fluids while you wait in the comfort of your vehicle. They’ll even plug a slow-leaking tire or replace your wiper blades (free of charge) if you need it.
Owner Todd Packer fell in love with the full-service concept while working at a full-service gas station during his high school years. When he opened his own service station in 2006, Packer knew exactly how the business was going to operate.
“From the day we opened – and I won’t change – we’ve been a full-service gas station with kind of a ‘50s flair to it,” he says.
Selling gas isn’t known for being a high-margin business, and maintaining a full-service gas station that’s open seven days a week is an expensive proposition. But it’s worth every penny for Packer. The interactions with customers at the pumps set the tone for the rest of the business, which includes a convenience store, a repair shop and a towing outfit. And it’s a touchpoint for a steady stream of approximately 300 potential customers (and customers) every day. Packer views it as a powerful form of in-person marketing. In the current environment, how many businesses (in any industry) have that luxury?
Business dipped a bit this spring due to the pandemic. Still, the garage was booked out several days in advance (normally it’s seven to 10 days), and the overall drop-off in volume was never enough to necessitate even one layoff.
When I spoke to Packer in early June, business had already bounced back to pre-pandemic levels. I don’t think that’s a matter of luck or chance. Great customer service never goes out of style! 6