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Family comes first

Tuesday, May 26, 2015 @ 09:05 AM
posted by Sarah Voigt

As seen in the Waterloo Chronicle

By Bob Vrbanac, Chronicle Staff

Jim Voigt was once asked who would carry on the tradition of operating his family-run garage at Columbia Auto Service started by his grandfather, Oscar.

“When Laurie and I had two daughters, people made silly comments like, ‘maybe the girls will marry someone that can take over the family business,’” said Jim. “Little did they know that daughters are willing and able to enter a male dominated sector and thrive.” jim laurie sarah chronicle

The fourth-generation of the family, Sarah, is proof of that as a service advisor at the garage located at 160 Columbia St. W. in Waterloo. She went off to school to study communications and came back talking about the importance of connecting with clients through social media and email.

Those efforts to stay on the cutting edge of service and communication by staying connected to their customers is why Columbia Auto Service was recently named as Canada’s 2014 Garage of the Year by Service Station and Garage Management Magazine.

The SSGM Garage of the Year is a national award presented annually to the Canadian independent automotive service provider that best exemplifies the highest levels of technical excellence, customer service and community involvement that the independent automotive aftermarket service industry has to offer to Canadian vehicle owners.

“This is a national award and out of 30,000 shops in Canada we were given the nod as shop of the year,” said Jim.

It’s not the first time the local garage has won an award after being named the Autopro of

the Year in 2012-13 as the

best shop in Ontario.

There is obvious pride that comes with being considered the best in your field. But that pride is also swelled by the contributions the entire family has made in earning those honours.

When Jim’s dad Gary ran the shop, his mom Pat would shuttle customers around while their cars were being serviced. Sarah took over some of those duties from her grandmother when she was old enough to drive, and her mom Laurie does the books for the operation and is involved in the business decisions to keep it all in the family.

The Voigts think it represents the changing face of the auto service industry with many more women now involved. The garage is no longer just the man’s domain.

“It amazes me to see many more women in the industry now, and it continues to grow,” said Sarah.

The biggest change in the business is also the communication that comes with it, and Columbia has always been on the cutting edge of emailing quotes and texting clients if they have a concerns.

“That’s what makes Sarah so valuable — it is about communication and clients love to have the information,” said Jim. “Clear, concise information is gold.”

And it’s what Jim thinks they do differently as an auto service business. Sarah agreed.

“People always ask me if I like doing this,” said Sarah. “I wouldn’t be doing it I really didn’t like it and the work we’re doing here is important.”