Traverse City family drives engine repair shop
Traverse City — The seeds of entrepreneurship were planted early in Dan Rettelle’s mind. He started a business mowing lawns when he was 14.
He took a detour and worked for other companies for several years. He was employed at local small engine repair shops beginning in the early 1990s. Rettelle, 41, decided six years ago that it was time to go back into business for himself.
So he and his wife, Hillarie, 39, set up shop in their home garage as HDR Small Engine Repair. They slowly built a reputation and a loyal customer base. The Sears corporation called him out of the blue and asked if he was interested in becoming a local repair shop for the national chain. He agreed. Sears looked closely at his books and then inked the deal. Business boomed for the Rettelles. Their garage was suddenly too small — and their residential street too busy — to handle the workflow.
“It caused us to have to move,” Rettelle said.
They rented their current building after it had been vacant for six years. Business doubled in the first two weeks at the new location. It doubled again in the following two weeks. Rettelle said the visible location is a big plus.
The Rettelles now employ two full-time technicians and three part-time workers.
Two of their daughters attend Northwestern Michigan College. The 20-year-old helps clean the shop. The 19-year-old helps in multiple capacities.
“She can run almost any segment of the business,” Rettelle said, “including turning wrenches.”
Their son Austin, 16, also turns wrenches when he’s not in school.
The family theme at HDR runs deeper. The entire crew — family and employees — takes turns providing lunch for the group. One employee sometimes brings in fresh-caught fish and fries them at the business. They all eat lunch together every day. The Rettelles host the workers at their house for Halloween and Easter dinner.
“We’re all set up like a family,” Hillerie said.
Spring and autumn are rush times for the business. In springtime, mowers roll in the door at the rate of 30 to 50 a day. Snow blowers will begin crawling up the ramp into the shop in September. Job turnaround time is hovering at a week right now. It can balloon to three weeks or more in peak months. January, February and March bring a lull in traffic flow.
The Rettelles offer a discount to active and retired servicemen, National Guard and Coast Guard personnel, police officers and firefighters.
Dan said HDR averages three new customers every day.