Friday, January 25, 2002
Auto repair comes easy, just down the road in Carlisle
It didn't take long for the Luther brothers to realize they were in unique circumstances after opening Carlisle Auto Body in 1977. Dean Luther had been tinkering underneath a car outside their facility at 673 Bedford Road, when he emerged to find himself face-to-face with a curious Appaloosa. The horse had broken free from a nearby barn and had wandered over to investigate his new neighbors.
"It was quite a shock," recalls Dean with a chuckle. "I knew right then that we'd left the city far behind."
Now, 25 years later, two brothers who grew up in Arlington have been adopted as Carlisle's own, well-known for offering quality auto body work primarily after-collision repair or paint jobs. Although Dean currently lives in Westford, Bill Luther has been a resident of Carlisle for the past eight years. He enjoys his commute (five minutes), the people and the friendly, small-town flavor.
"I probably know just about everyone in Carlisle in one fashion or another," says Bill. "Whether it's through the business or our kids are in school together, there always seems to be a connection."
It is through their visibility and connections that Carlisle Auto Body maintains a thriving business, say the Luther brothers. That, and top-notch service. Without both, it's doubtful that a business could survive 25 years in a small town.
"It's a great town to run a business in if you do quality repairs," says Dean. "Otherwise, you'd be run out of town."
"If you don't have word-of-mouth, you don't have any kind of repeat business," Bill adds. "Especially because we do very little advertising."
It is a testament to the success of this approach that a new state-of-the-art facility has been under construction over the past year, and is nearly completed. Inside, there are high-tech, environmentally friendly additions such as paint booths that purify fumes before releasing them into the air, and vacuum-assisted sanders that immediately siphon off dust. The exterior of the facility is also impressive an attractive beige building with green shutters and dormer windows. The cars' entrance door is placed at the back of the building, out of sight of the road, and side windows are placed high a thoughtful gesture included so that neighbors wouldn't have to view cars in various stages of repair.
"We live in this town and work in this town, so we wanted it to look nice," Bill says.
In addition to their business, the Luthersand members of their family are involved in Carlisle town activities. Bill coaches basketball and baseball for recreation department leagues. Bill's wife Tracy volunteers frequently at the Carlisle School, where their three childrenages 7 to 14have attended. Another brother, Ken Luther, lives in Carlisle and is also in the automotive business, as the owner of KW Luther Bodyworks in Bedford. Ken's wife Sheila runs the business Initial Stitch out of their Carlisle home.
In the 25 years that Carlisle Auto Body has been in town, the Luthers have established many lasting friendshipsand one of these long-time friends is Don L'Heureux of Carlisle Repair, whose business is located across the street at 662 Bedford Road. Their business relationship is symbiotic rather than competitive: while the Luthers focus on a car's exterior, L'Heureux's speciality is the car's interior workings. Scheduled maintenance makes up the bulk of his business, although he has been known to drive out to stranded motorists in Carlisle to see if he can get disabled vehicles up and running on the spot.
Carlisle Repair is set back from Bedford Road down a long driveway, but L'Heureux says he has no qualms about people knowing he's there and open for business. "There's a general awareness," he says. "I take out an ad in the Mosquito. It also helps that we were in the center for so long."
Newer residents may not be aware that the garage next to Daisy's in the center of town was once a Texaco gas station and car repair shop. L'Heureux came to work there in 1980, and by 1983 was running the station on his own, even deciding to drop the Texaco name in order to offer more competitive gasoline prices. In 1995, amid concerns over underground gas leaks, L'Heureux decided the time was right to move his business. Coincidentally, long-time Carlisle resident and auto mechanic Dave Duren was retiring that year, so he rented the Bedford Road property and business to L'Heureux. "It was a facility better suited to my business needs," says L'Heureux. "It was a better opportunity for the long term."
Although L'Heureux currently lives in Westford with his wife and three children, his devotion to Carlisle and its small-town character is evident. "When I come...into Carlisle, it's like going back in time," he says.
It's back to a simpler, more informal time in which people know and trust their auto mechanic, whom they address on a first-name basis. A time when people feel comfortable dropping off their cars even if no one is in the office, and the mechanic knows he can leave the bill in the car and still be sure of getting paid.
"There's no attitude of 'you can't take the car until you pay me,'" says L'Heureux. "I've been here 19 years, and I've only been burned twice and that was by short-time Carlisleans."
With an estimated 99 percent of his business coming from Carlisle residents, L'Heureux knows the inestimable value of quality service in a small town. "The trust has to be there or the business would go flat in a hurry," he says. "Because people talk."
And by all accounts, they have good things to say. "He's thorough, timely, and fun to do business with," says long-time resident and Carlisle Repair customer, Seba Gaines. "All the people I know who have had work done by him are happy customers."
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito