Colson’s Auto Repair has been family owned and operated for 70 years. The current owner Frank Colson Jr., or simply “JR,” learned a lot from his father Frank Colson who opened the shop in 1949. Having wandered the shop since he was able to walk, JR grew up with the company.
The best business advice he’s received he learned indirectly from his father. “I’ve worked with my dad almost my whole life and I don’t think he ever gave me too much business advice,” said JR. “But what I’ve picked up is to treat people the way you want to be treated, and to be fair with your customers. I don’t ever try to sell something that people don’t need.” This concern for customers not only keeps generations of Carpinterians coming back, but visitors, too. “I see a lot of people from the (Carpinteria State Beach) campground come here and say, ‘I remember visiting with my mom and dad and I can’t believe you’re still here!’”
As cars have evolved, so has the business. What started out as a garage progressed into a body shop, a radiator shop, and then to a full-blown towing business. But as restrictions and liability increased—along with the grind of running a 24-hour service—Frank said, “We were busy, but towing’s changed through the years and it wasn’t fun anymore. So, I made the decision to sell the trucks and put all my business into repairs, tires and alignments.”
JR said, “I had an opportunity where I was asked to become a tire shop from a company that opened in Ventura. It started to snowball. I needed to get a better balancer, a better machine, and my dad was kind of like, ‘Yeah, that’s pretty good!’” JR also installed a drive-up rack to keep services in-house instead of sending jobs elsewhere. “You have to switch with the times,” JR said. “If you’re not into social media or getting a nice webpage, you could be left in the dust.” (Colson’s Instagram handle is: @Colsonstowing_autorepair.)
One thing that hasn’t changed is an advertising budget—JR doesn’t have one. “The only change I haven’t done is advertise,” Frank says. “I ask people, how do you know about us? And it’s all word-of-mouth.” When asked for a trade secret, he kept it simple. “People come in and they like that it’s not a corporate-type service,” JR said. “It’s more of the old-school service where you’re one-on-one, face-to-face.”
Less than a year ago, Costa’s Auto Works relocated their body shop to the exact spot where JR’s father’s body shop once was. “Between both of us working together, Colson’s can fix your car and Costa’s can do the body work,” said JR. “We pretty much do everything, except smog.” Joe Costa, owner of Costa’s Auto Work, chimed in on the decision to merge. “JR and I are friends and have worked side-by-side for so long,” Joe Costa said. “And after he (got rid of) the towing side of the business, we both thought it would be a great move to make the place a one-stop shop.” (Another business that has gone the distance, Costa’s Auto Work has been in business since 1988.) The look of the garage has changed little since opening 70 years ago, which makes for a photogenic backdrop for late model muscle cars and foreign and domestic automobiles of all kinds.
Colson’s Auto Repair and Costa’s Auto Work are located at 5096 6th St.