Shop Profile: Honesty is the Best Policy at Vern’s Auto Repair – UnderhoodService

Shop Profile: Honesty is the Best Policy at Vern’s Auto Repair

Three generations of the Goulden family have worked at Vern's Auto Repair in Springfield, IL. The Gouldens have always believed in treating their customers fairly and word-of-mouth advertising continues to bring in new business.

Three generations of the Goulden family have worked at Vern’s Auto Repair in Springfield, IL. The Gouldens have always believed in treating their customers fairly and word-of-mouth advertising continues to bring in new business.

Below is the article as it appeared on The State Journal-Register website.

Vern’s Auto Repair is tradition in the Goulden family

By Kathleen Ostrander
Springfield Business News
Posted Apr 07, 2010 @ 12:00 AM
Last update Apr 07, 2010 @ 05:44 AM

Vern, Steve and Matthew Goulden (Photo by Jeff Stearns/The State Journal-Register)Vern Goulden has always worked on cars — his cars, race cars and other people’s cars, for as long as he can remember. He is, according to his wife, Joan, a “natural.”

“He just knows how to fix it and he knows what’s wrong and he can fix almost anything. We have people call us up and ask about fixing some wiring in their house, and Vern will tell them it’s easy and here’s how to do it. And they will say, ‘Sure, it’s easy for you, Vern …,’” she said with a laugh. “He really is a ‘natural.’”

So it seemed natural that Steve Goulden would walk in his father’s footsteps and take over Vern’s Auto Repair, 1645 North Grand Ave. E. when Vern decided to step away and take it easy for a change. It also seemed natural that Matthew Goulden, Steve’s son, would take to the family business like his father and his grandfather.

Although Matthew liked the racing part of the business, like Vern and Steve; the repair end didn’t hold as much allure.

“He said it was too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter,” Joan said. When Matthew got his degree in computer programming, he still helped out and he worked on his own race car.

“One day he wanted to talk to his dad so I made myself busy in the front away from them,” recounted Vern. “Matthew told his dad he didn’t want to work in the corporate world; he wanted to work in the repair business. I retired that day,” Vern said. He said he wasn’t going to leave Steve to run the business by himself, but he wasn’t going to pressure Matthew into joining, either.

That was nine years ago and three generations of Gouldens share the same business philosophy that has kept new customers coming in and old customers coming back.

Vern worked for other gas station owners until 1972, then he got a variance from the city and started his own auto repair business on Melody Lane. Customers would leave their cars parked in their driveways with the keys in the car and Steve would walk over and bring them back home for Vern to work on.

He would take them back and leave them in the driveway when his dad was done, and the customers would come over after work and settle up the bill. Steve said he can remember being 6 years old and it just seemed natural that he would be working on a car instead of playing with cars.

In 1980 the business moved to its present location on North Grand Avenue and it’s been growing ever since.

The front office is filled with racing memorabilia as well as metal cars that Vern started collecting and he keeps accumulating. “He worked at the station from 7 until 10,” said Joan. “Racing on the weekend was a family thing; we could take the kids.”

“I couldn’t have done it without her,” Vern said fondly, “when the business moved here I had to keep my nose to the grindstone and keep at it just to get by in the beginning.”

And the business has grown, the bays are busy and Steve’s got his own office.

“I think I did so well in the business because I always treated people the way I wanted to be treated. I explained what needed to be fixed. And sometimes, you just don’t need to charge for everything you do,” Vern said. “Single moms and divorced mothers are at the mercy of car repair people,” added Joan, “honesty is the best policy and we’ve gotten most of our business through word of mouth.”

Vern said there are a lot of cars he just couldn’t work on now. “Steve’s going to Lincoln Land (Community College) all the time now to keep getting updated,” Joan said. “We’ve got $50,000 of computer equipment now to do diagnostics,” Vern said.

Steve, 52, said he runs the business the way he was taught by his dad. “Honestly, I never wanted to do anything but work on cars,” he said. “I can remember working with my dad and having customers say, ‘I don’t want the kid working on my car.’ Because we treated them fair and we treated them right, they are coming back and for some, ‘the kid’ is now my son working on their car.”

Steve said he and Matthew work on customers’ cars and then after hours work on the race car. Like his dad, he surrounds himself with good people. “We couldn’t take off early to go to a race if we didn’t have Jim Lyons, Jerry Meyers Jr. and Jason Coe working here.”

As Matthew wiped his hands with a rag after moving his race car around, he said he will eventually take over the business from his dad and utilize the same business philosophy.

“Treat everyone fair, charge for your work, but remember where you work and keep your rates reasonable,” Matthew said.

Does he have regrets that he changed his mind and decided to move into the family business?

“Nope, I’m not the corporate type,” Matthew said, “unless you’re a corporation that wants to sponsor our race car.”

To read this article on The State Journal-Register website, visit

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