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The Cajun Navy

It’s not often I enter a new year so profoundly affected and influenced by the events of that year as they pertain to what I do and the people I do it with. Because we live in a world of changing values and emerging technologies that turn our lives around so quickly, it is reassuring to discover some of the values we hold closest as Americans, and business owners & operators are no different when things take a turn for the worse. What I am specifically referring to is the way regular working-class Americans in all of their varieties, came together when mother nature threw catastrophic storms and record setting rains at the Gulf coast of South Texas and Florida. One group of these rescuers, which I was fortunate enough to know personally, are my local automotive service center employees and repair shop owners that quickly decided on their own, to make sure there was help on its way days before government agencies were on the scene. They took it upon themselves to round up as many tow trucks and mobile repair trucks as possible, and stuck a fishing boat on a trailer behind each one. They packed every bit of available space with fresh drinking water and emergency supplies, they convoyed down to the areas hardest hit by flooding on the Texas Gulf coast and then spent the next 10 days rescuing people and vehicles with no thought of any compensation other than the gratitude of those being helped. Being in Texas, I didn’t personally experience the same thing happening in Florida, but my friends in the industry who live there were quick to point out that generosity and humanity from the automotive sector played out the same way. The thing that truly surprised me was the immediate response that simultaneously occurred nationally when the storm hit. There was no waffling or excuse making, everyone pitched in, businesses let their employees take emergency leave or vacation and sent their assets and employees into a disaster area without a second thought because people were in need of help. After 30 years in this business, this was what I personally took away from the recent events, how they played out and the perceptions I noted from my community when I start asking others how they felt about what had happened.

When I first started out in the automotive aftermarket and service industry there was a common “perception” that our industry was one based on greed and opportunity, taking advantage of “naive” vehicle owners and selling them service they didn’t need and products or oils that were substandard. It was common to see “sting” like operations, involving customers trying to catch shops being bad. Because this was not a typical representation of what was happening in the real world, trying to go after well managed, professionally ran service centers and repair shops became a thing of the past and over time the public began trusting the value and convenience that these types of businesses brought to them. With the price of new vehicles rising every year it has become a necessity to maintain your older vehicle as long as possible giving way to a new mission and expanding opportunities for the owners of shops and service centers. Because we have learned the value of service and community, the future for the automotive service aftermarket is better than it has ever been. The incredibly speedy response this past year when disaster struck has endeared the automotive repair and service industry in South Texas and Florida to anyone who was able to witness the sacrifice and strength that people took to the disaster areas. Personally, I feel like a proud parent. I can’t remember a time when I saw so much truly selfless behavior from a bunch of mechanics and wrecker drivers. As a side note, most of those boats they towed down to rescue people and their possessions with, were their weekend bass boats and personal pleasure boats. Twelve to eighteen hours a day were spent pulling people to safety and rescuing the few possessions and pets they still had. I must also say that I am proud of the “Cajun navy” and feel the need to pass on their story. If you ask anyone in my town about their automotive service provider, you get a big smile and a thumbs up! Next time you see your service provider, give them a big hug! They deserve it.

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