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Celebrating 45 years in the Cape: Labor of love keeps Ken’s Auto Repair in high gear

February 8, 2018
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

When you enter Ken's Auto Repair on Del Prado Boulevard, you can view decades of award plaques spanning across the walls of the business that opened in 1973.

Classic car magazines and family photo albums are kept alive on the shelves while owner Ken Schuman stands behind the counter with a friendly smile, ready to welcome in the next customer.

"I've lived by this philosophy my entire career," Schuman said. "The customer is always right. They want the job done well. And they won't want to buy something they don't need. If you take care of the customer today, they'll be there tomorrow. That's always the way I looked at it."

Article Photos

Hard at work, at 75 Ken Schuman has no plans to retire from family owned and operated Ken’s Auto Repair.
ALEX GALENTE

Just then, one of Ken's customers walked into the shop.

"Hey, Ken, do you have any money?" the customer asked, with his hands extended.

"No, I don't have any money," Ken replied. "Why, you looking for some?"

His customer joked, "Well, then, you're not doing any better than I am!"

They exchanged laughter.

"Hey, Ken, my AC is down. I need a fix."

Ken responded: "I can pencil you in for tomorrow at 9."

"Oh, c'mon Ken! I need the car to go fishing tomorrow at 9. Can we do 8:30?"

Ken looked at his busy calendar

"Okay. I can pencil you in at 8:30."

And that is the friendly experience you can expect at Ken's Auto Repair, which has been serving customers in the Cape for 45 years now, operating first as an electrical and marine shop before expanding to a full auto repair facility in 1980.

When asked what Schuman finds most interesting about this business, he says it's his customers.

"I've really gotten to know many of my customers over the years," Schuman said. "They share with me things about their lives, their families. Sometimes we talk politics. Conversing with my customers truly is the best part of this business."

From oil changes and brakes to computerized, drivability and electrical diagnosis, Ken's Auto Repair does it all. Ken's diverse team of mechanics is specialized in foreign cars to domestic, to custom collectibles, antiques and sports cars.

In the years since opening, Schuman also has diversified.

His family run insurance shop, Ken Schuman Insurance, is located next door to the auto repair shop at 4533 Del Prado Blvd. They offer Progressive insurance

It all started in 1972 when Schuman decided it was time to open up his own business. He sold his house in Ohio and moved to Cape Coral, one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. at the time.

"I bought the land and designed the building which is now the shop. And I bought a house by the waterfront. During that time the population was about 12,000. Everybody knew each other."

Schuman later went on to building his own house in 1988 with his two sons.

"You could pick one of 12 industries at that time and move to Florida and be successful. It was the right place at the right time."

But timing wasn't everything that made Ken's business the top rated auto repair shop in the area.

"I tell people they have to shake the trees. When you start a business, money doesn't just appear. You need to be creative," he said.

In the beginning, Schuman partnered with local gas stations by distributing a weekly supply of starters. Ken's Auto Repair then expanded into a full automotive shop by 1980. He also held contracts for the local school buses, Florida Highway Patrol, the Lee County Sheriff's Office and the local shrimp fleet, rebuilding starters, alternators and generators.

When it comes to a quality vehicle, Schuman said look for brands, not features. But he thinks features are important, too.

"I haven't seen a perfect car yet. If I did, then I wouldn't be working as a mechanic," he said.

Whether it's conventional or luxury, every car must be kept up with routine maintenance - oil changes, brakes, and he advises to never to ignore your "check engine" light.

Ken's Auto Repair also provides mechanical restoration on old cars.

Schuman walked to the back of his shop where his 1922 Buick four-door convertible Touring car was parked.

"That's mine," he said with a grin.

Behind the Buick was one of his customer's T Bucket fiberglass body kit car , modeled after Model T truck.

He unlocked the back door to the shop, which opened up to a garage enclosing a Chevy Camaro and a Corvette.

"The Camaro was torn apart, so I did a full body repair, including the top-down convertible and the paint job. I love bringing something from start to finish."

Schuman loves antique cars.

"We do it all, collectibles, custom cars... but repairing old cars is a labor of love."

His dream car? A 1963 Buick Skylark convertible.

"Everybody has a dream car," he said.

What sets his shop apart, according to Schuman, is experience.

"When it comes to getting car parts, I have built strong connections over the past 45 years, and my sources can get the best starters and alternators for the best, most competitive pricing around," he said.

Schuman said the shop has an unmatched supply of marine starters and alternators. He learned how to repair marines in the Navy, where he gained military mechanical training at the Key West Submarine Tender.

Schuman enlisted in 1961 to fight during the Vietnam War, fulfilling his strong calling for civic duty. After he came home from the war, he married his wife, Marilyn, who supports his business and love for cars from "behind the scenes."

"My wife is the type of woman, when I turn on the car show, she's sitting right there next to me," he said.

They've been married for 53 years.

Schuman has been working on cars since he was a kid, as he comes from a long family lineage in the auto repair industry.

He started painting cars when he was 14 and bought his first car in 1956 at 15. It was a 1949 Ford business coupe, and he bought it for only $50 from a customer at his father's gas station.

He went on to complete numerous mechanical vocational trainings and certifications.

Since then, Schuman has built three cars from the ground up, and repaired hundreds of thousands. His weekdays are busy with his shop, and that leaves him enough free time on the weekends to work on his projects.

Yes, you guessed it, more cars.

And, to guess how many "projects" Schuman has going on at home, let's just say he needs extra garage space.

He has five children who, at one point or another, have worked in his shop.

"I taught my kids good work ethics. There was no allowance; any money they got from me, they worked for. They are doing pretty good right now. Two are CEOs, one is a stockbroker, and one is the president of the family business," he said of his children.

His daughter, Donna Germain, is president and CEO of Cape Coral Chamber of Commerce.

"I am going to write a book one day," Ken said, half-jokingly. "I started working at 13 years old doing yard work. Whenever younger people complain about not having something, I tell them to go out and work for it."

Schuman was significantly active in coaching his children's baseball teams, and is commended for his 10 years volunteering with Cape Coral Little League and three years with the Babe Ruth League.

Schuman flipped through pictures on his phone, showing pictures of his esteemed 3540 Street Rod he keeps at home. He then flipped to a picture of a crib he handmade for his first great grandson who was born this week.

The only thing Ken loves more than cars, is his family. And, he considers his team of mechanics like family, too.

And as for his loyal customers? Yes, one big happy family.

Schuman will turn 75 in September.

"Customers beg me not to retire. I tell them not to worry. As long as I stay healthy, I'll be here," he said.

After 45 years of business, Schuman has no interest in retiring, and intends on continuing spending his weekdays, and weekends, working on cars, and crafting home-made woodwork for his family, in the heart of the Cape.

 
 

 

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