Old gas station, now auto repair shop, Liberty City, Miami, Florida (pic by Phillip Pessar)Enlarge Photo
How do you feel about your local garage -- the mom and pop place on the corner with the faded, hand-painted sign and the lot full of cars waiting to be fixed?
Your answer to that question will color the way you feel about a new survey from Hiscox, an insurance provider for small businesses. The results aren't so great for independent auto repair joints.
Hiscox polled owners of more than 1,000 small- and medium-sized business across the U.S., asking them about their financial security and their prospects for the future. The study covered a wide range of industries, from construction to catering to financial services.
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Of those, independent garages had the most dour outlook. More than half -- 56 percent, to be precise -- planned to sell or shutter their business by the year 2020. That figure was 18 percentage points higher than any other industry included in the survey.
Why do moms and pops want to close their shops? Hiscox says that owners are weighed down by financial burdens, which have a very direct effect on their personal lives. Roughly 22 percent of indie garage owners have taken out second mortgages on their homes to keep their shops open. And 33 percent say that funding their small business is harder now than it was last year.
But like your parents told you, money isn't everything. Quality of life is important, too, and 32 percent of repair shop owners surveyed said that they'd taken fewer than 10 vacation days in the previous year.
As a result, many garage owners hope to turn out the lights and close for good. Over the past five years, America has lost 5,768 independent shops, leaving us with 159,547. That number could shrink dramatically if owners make good on their promise to close or sell their stores in the next five years.
The cards are stacked against smaller garages. Dealerships are extending warranties and pricing their services more competitively to wring every cent of profit from their repair centers. Meanwhile, chain shops like Pep Boys and Sears continue to expand, promising cheaper, faster fixes than dealers. Between the price under-cutting, the heavy marketing, and the need for shops to possess expensive diagnostic equipment to fix increasingly complex cars, mom and pop shops get squeezed.
Do you have a soft spot for your local garage? Or do you prefer the slicker, more corporate vibe of a chain or dealer shop? Share your thoughts in the comments below.