Youngs' auto-repair shops roll along
POSTED: Saturday, November 22, 2008
A decade ago, Frank Young faced off against an industry giant.
On the road again
K&Y Auto Service
>> Address: 902 Kawaiahao St.
>> Phone: 593-2842
>> Hours: Monday-Friday 7 a.m.-5 p.m.
Wayne's Auto Electric
>> Address: 902 Kawaiahao St.
» Phone: 591-8818
» Hours: Monday-Thursday 6:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; Friday 6:30 a.m.-3 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m.-noon.
Today, the former Chevron dealer who helped propel the passage of the now-repealed Hawaii gas cap law is still battling a behemoth - but this time it's the crippled economy.
Young, whose business evolved over the past 55 years into K&Y Auto Service, combined in August a second company he purchased in 2001 - Wayne's Auto Electric - into a single 10,000-square-foot building on Kawaiahao Street to cut costs in the ailing economy.
"With this economy and all, we're consolidating," said the 54-year-old, who is the second generation to take over the family auto-repair business that he runs with wife Gilda, sons Jarret and Jeremy, and sole employee Gary Sasaki.
A third son, Justin, chose not to work in the family operation and runs an investment firm on the mainland.
Frank's streamlining tactics and rigid philosophy of hard work has helped keep alive the mom-and-pop operation his father, James, started in 1953.
"My accountant said a lot of businesses start failing in the second generation and fall apart in the third generation because everybody starts getting looser on the financials and starts taking things for granted," Frank said. "My father was hard on me and I'm just as hard on my kids. Everybody thinks it's kind of cruel, but that's how you survive."
Frank knows a thing or two about survival.
In January 2001, he was forced out of his Kakaako gas station, K&Y Chevron, which his family ran for nearly 50 years, after settling a lawsuit filed against him by Chevron - whose pricing practices he vocally criticized in the 1990s.
Later, he was one of the main proponents of the controversial gas cap law, admittedly lobbying until midnight at the Legislature.
"If he feels he's right he won't back down," said Sasaki, who has worked there nearly eight years. "Honestly, Frank is very open and fair. To be in business for so long, you've got to have some sort of reputation. He's very loyal to his customers. (The family members all) work hard."
Often compared to Gregory House, a maverick doctor who uses wits and teamwork to piece together complicated cases on the television show, "House M.D.," Young teaches his sons to figure things out the hard way by not giving them the answers off the bat, but making them go through a manual, tedious process they sometimes find useless, instead of using a computer to come up with a solution.
That process, according to Frank, has been the secret of the longtime business' success.
"When you learn the hard way, you learn all the fundamentals; I never forget how I got there or how I solved the problem," Frank said. "If I keep giving them the answers and it comes that easy, they take it for granted. I make them think."
In fact, Frank says he intentionally books difficult, unprofitable jobs sometimes that will allow the team to gain substantial knowledge about cars in the problem-solving process.
For instance, the hands-on boss will make his sons check the charging system and other areas first to determine what looks to be a typical dead battery.
"Eight out of 10 times I knew it was the battery, but once in awhile the alternator is not charging," he said. "I prefer not to skip steps; even though most of the time they might be right, the one or two times they're wrong they're going to spend a heck of a long time on the car. That's why I don't have comebacks as often or customers who are going to have a dead battery tomorrow."
While both sons are mechanically-inclined and chose to join the business, there are still disagreements in a battle of the old- and new-generation philosophy on how to diagnose and fix cars.
"Sometimes we have arguments about the way we have to do things," said Jeremy, 25, who has been working on cars for more than four years, but recalls helping at the family car wash at 8 years old. "He always tells me I've got to think a little smarter and not work so hard because sometimes I like to rush into things. We pretty much all carry the same work ethic."
There are also substantial perks in working in a family operation.
"We probably have more family meals together than when they were growing up," when the service station was open seven days a week, said Gilda, who formerly worked at McGraw-Hill Cos. before becoming office manager in the mid-1980s.
And while the family gets no vacation or sick-leave benefits, they don't have to worry about job security as businesses downsize in the slow economy.
"If one's in trouble, everybody's in trouble," Jarret said. "My friends think I'm crazy because I put in too many hours, but we really don't mind it."
That family creed has rung true since Frank started working with his father as a child in the mid-1960s.
Frank, the only son with three sisters, developed an intuitiveness for car repairs when working at his father's station at 11 years old. He became a full-time mechanic by the time he turned 15 and recalls working 40 hours a week to help sustain the business, while attending St. Louis School, also the alma mater of his father and all three sons. He collected just $53 every two weeks, which went to pay for his school tuition.
Still, he said he loved going to work with his father despite the long hours.
By the time he and Gilda were married in 1976, he was working up to 70 hours a week. Both have taken just one real vacation since their honeymoon that year.
Today, most of the family pulls at least 10-hour shifts.
"The thing with family businesses is everybody's got a stake in it," said Frank, adding that property taxes have tripled since moving to the current location. "You play to each other's strengths. Nobody plays games out there. You don't have to get on each other's case to finish a job. If times get bad, everybody digs in deeper without pay and they don't get fired even in a down economy."