Auto repair shop owner Neil Lefler retires, leaving behind quality work and mentorship – Salisbury Post

FAITH – Neil Lefler still doesn’t know how he did it, but he remembers a lot of hard work going into it.

At the age of 30, with a day job and a family at home, Neil took out a $ 25,000 home equity loan and used it to build the auto body shop he still had. dreamed of owning.

“I was working full time at the dealership and would come home and work here at night, until about 10 or 12 o’clock every night,” Neil said.

Neil, 65, built Neil’s Paint and Body Shop in 1986 on his family’s property at 1685 Kluttz Road, the same land he grew up farming on.

The long sleepless hours in the store finally paid off for Neil. He built up a fiercely loyal following and quit his day job to work full-time in his store, eventually bringing in other employees to help with the load. For over three decades, Neil’s Paint and Body Shop has been where locals mistook their vehicles for a new coat or fender.

After 50 years in the auto repair industry, Neil retired at the end of September. He sold the store to his eldest son, Branson Lefler, who found his way into the auto industry and started Crossroads Auto Body. The companies will now merge, with Neil’s Paint and Body becoming Crossroads Auto Body. Thanks to the merger, the spirit of the family business will remain intact.

“It feels good to come back to the store I grew up in,” Branson said. “I can bring my own opinion and the way I manage things in his business. I hope I can learn a little from his work and keep what I have been able to accomplish.

Long before Neil got his hands dirty working on a damaged real car, he spent hours playing with fake cars.

“I loved playing with what they called Crashmobiles back then,” said Neil. “They were little cars that you could push and smash them against the wall and the front parts would fly away. Then you would wind it up.

At the age of 15, Neil’s uncle gave him the opportunity to work on real cars.

“My uncle was the body shop foreman at Wallace Motor Company, a Pontiac / Cadillac dealership,” said Neil. “He had a small store behind his father’s house where he did bodywork. He would pick me up and take me there and I would work Saturdays for him. This is where it all began.

In high school, Neil joined the Industrial Co-op Training Program, which allowed him to take an early break every day and go help Wallace Motor Company.

“I was doing it five days a week and the longer I worked, the more I became interested in it,” Neil said.

He repeated the program in his senior year, then went to work full-time at Wallace when he graduated, while taking classes at what was then Rowan Technical College. Neil worked for a handful of dealerships in the area before being one of the first people hired in the paint department at MAN Truck and Bus, where Daimler’s Freightliner plant is currently located.

Neil rose through the ranks at MAN, becoming a supervisor. Then one day, overwhelmed by the pressure of work, he suddenly left.

“I quit. I was mentally stressed,” said Neil. “I had two kids at home and a wife who stayed home with them, and there I went out without a job.”

On the way home, Neil stopped by Wallace Motor Company and found a job where he started. In the meantime, he took out this $ 25,000 loan and started building his own body shop.

While Neil worked to build the business from scratch, a young Branson was there with him in the store.

“Every night Branson would come here with me,” said Neil. “He had to. He had his own gaming toolbox and whatever I did he was right behind me.

Branson’s aptitude for auto work was evident from an early age, and he had never wanted to do anything else.

“It was passed on to me, I guess,” Branson said.

After graduating from Central Piedmont College, where he could have taught other students as much about cars as he learned, Branson returned to work with his father. And Neil thought that was how it was always going to be, until one day Branson walked into his office with some startling news.

“It was the biggest shock of my entire life,” said Neil. “You’ve always heard that phrase, ‘Can they pick me up off the ground?’ He came into my office one day and he said to me, he said. ‘Dad, I put my opinion.’ You could have literally lifted me off the ground.

Neil thought Branson was going to work with his youngest son, West, who worked in the landscaping business.

“Branson said ‘No I’m going to open a body shop,’” said Neil. “And it was about a mile and a half from here. I said, ‘Well, you can take half of Faith and I’ll take the other half.’ “

Neil’s Paint and Body and Crossroads have coexisted peacefully for years. Meanwhile, other workers who got their start at Neil’s Paint and Body under Neil’s tutelage branched out and opened their own workshops, or used their automotive skills to forge new careers.

“It hurts me when they leave, but I understand where and why they are going,” said Neil.

While some of its employees have left, most of its customers have not.

“We’ve always been known to do good, quality work,” said Neil. “I have had very, very few unhappy customers. They always come back, them or their families or friends. People have said to me, “Well, you fixed my great aunt’s car in 1988. You couldn’t even tell it was destroyed.” This is how it should be.

Branson hopes to keep as many of those customers as possible, although they can be a bit confused when they see the Crossroads sign near the road instead of Neil’s.

Although Neil technically retired on September 30, you can still find him helping out in the store he built. It’s hard to let go of something you’ve spent most of your life building, Branson points out.

What he’ll miss the most when he truly leaves, said Neil, are the people he’s worked with or worked with every day for three decades.

“I will miss a lot of people, a lot of good customers, salespeople, salespeople, insurers, employees,” Neil said. “It’s going to be one of the things that I miss the most about the job, it’s just seeing them all. “

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