Is there green in grease?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 22, 2009

From her secretary’s desk at Pro Transmission in Natchez, Louise Hester sees basically everything that goes on in the repair shop.

Lately, she said, she’s been seeing a lot, but that wasn’t the case just a few weeks ago.

Hester said work at Pro Transmission has picked up a little March, but, because of an overall slow down in the economy, the work-load doesn’t compare to what the shop had just a year ago.

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Hester said Pro Transmission has done about 20 transmission repair jobs so far in March. She said last year a good month would have up to 10 transmission jobs a week.

And while things are down in March, Hester said February was even worse.

“February was awful,” she said. “Usually February is our best month, but that wasn’t the case this year.”

Hester said there is a good reason business has started to pick up recently — income tax refunds.

She said the influx usually starts in February, but is hoping March’s upturn will continue.

“Tax time is always a big boom for us, but it hasn’t been as big this year,” she said. “Maybe people are taking some time to figure out what they are going to do with their money.”

She said customers have been waiting for several months before having necessary repairs made.

“People who came in in September weren’t able to make repairs then because they couldn’t afford them,” Hester said. “They said they’d just have to park it until they got their income tax money.”

Hester said the increase in business in the last couple of months has had a good impact on the business’s bottom line. But it will take many more good months to recover from a poor year in 2008.

“Last year was the worst year we’ve ever had and we’ve been here for 15 years,” she said. “All of a sudden, last year, our costs tripled, but we couldn’t go up on our prices because then the customers couldn’t afford them.”

Hester said because of the slow down experienced in 2008 the shop starting doing work other than transmission repairs as a new way to bring in more customers.

“We used to not have time for anything else, but now we do,” she said.

The story is much the same at Triple A Garage in Vidalia. Business partner Joseph Tarver said the end of 2008 was slow but the beginning of the 2009 has kept the two mechanics there busy.

“We do mostly tune ups and brake repair work,” Tarver said. “In November and December, we were really slow but in January and February we starting getting busy.”

Tarver said he believes some people are being more cautious with their money and may be putting off car repairs because of the poor economy.

But those who are bringing in cars for service are hoping to milk more miles out of their current automobile.

“Most people now don’t have the money to get a new one, so they are trying to fix what they can,” he said. “If the repairs get to be too much or too costly they will look at getting a new one, but, right now, they are trying to fix what they can.”

Tarver said because there are only two people working at Triple A, he can’t really add services, but if customers need something, he does what he can to accommodate.

“We have done some other types of repairs but most of our business comes from repeat customers,” Tarver said.

Not everyone has had to endure the roller coaster ride like Hester and Tarver, though. Bobby Moore at Bobby’s Service Center said he hasn’t seen a big fluctuation in business. He said he has had enough business to stay busy.

“Business has been about normal,” Moore said. “I haven’t seen a lot of increase or decrease at all.”

Hester said she is hopeful for a day when business will return to “normal,” but until then she said Pro Transmission is hanging on.

“Sometimes it feels like we are barely here,” she said. “But by the grace of God we are.”

Story by jennifer edwards