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Meet Greg Kelly of Greg’s Automotive

Today we’d like to introduce you to Greg Kelly.

Greg, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I started my business on a shoestring in 1979. I had gotten the entrepreneur bug in a big way. I outgrew 3 different shop leaseholds until 2002. Until that time, industry experts predicted independent shops needed to get larger to support the training and equipment needs of the coming vehicles. In 2002, the industry complexion was radically changed. Interest free loans on new cars resulted in thousands of used vehicles being shipped out of the country.

Every manufacturer focused very strongly on making more durable vehicles, so they broke down much less often.

These changes brought vehicle maintenance to the forefront, causing the need for large shops to diminish. We adjusted to those changes by breaking our one large shop into 2 smaller shops, with less overhead at each.

My wife, Sheri had joined the full time team around 1984. She still works full time, managing the second shop, Greg’s Automotive Helix.

During my years as a shop owner, I have participated in our local, state and nationwide trade associations, Automotive Service Councils of California and Automotive Service Association. During the development of the Smog Check Program, I was one of the few small shop owners to be at the table giving the viewpoint of the little guys and women. Here in San Diego, I was at the table with the Department of Environmental Health, keeping a watchful eye on the fee structures. I helped develop a checklist that both auto repair and auto body shops could use to stay in compliance. The BBB and local Chambers of Commerce have both been memberships I have kept for many years.

Channel 10 had a program they called “The Troubleshooter with Marti Emerald” I was their go-to troubleshooter mechanic and we did many shorts to give insight into emerging problems and issues with people’s vehicles. Marti was and is a wonderful and forceful woman and her producer, JW August, helped solve a lot of different issues in our communities.

Being in business all these years has convinced me of a few very major things. The old adage “the more things change, the more they stay the same” Working on and repairing vehicles has always been a challenge to keep up with. If it’s not knowledge of new systems, (I remember when I saw my first disc brake vehicle,) new tools to diagnose and troubleshoot ( the old Sun Machines with TV picture tubes built in) or new State laws to regulate my industry and employees, the march goes on.

Auto repair still remains a complicated job that requires intelligence and training. It pays very well for even moderately talented individuals. Yet, the education system remains stuck on the idea that everyone needs to complete their education at a 4-year college. San Diego has taken a leadership role in trying to reverse that trend and I applaud them for that. It must continue so that there are people available to fill good paying jobs that even our modern society has to fill.

Has it been a smooth road?
My business has taken some lumps and bumps along the way. of course. Recessions have come and gone, but the need for maintenance will take a back seat to paying the rent, any day. If a vehicle is broken, that can’t be ignored. But maintenance for the future of the vehicle sure can.

A property I was leasing was sold out from under me. The pain of paying a much larger property tax bill as part of my rent set us back a very long time. The antics of the new property manager firm caused me a lot of grief and money.

One of my locations had limited parking and one of the tenants hogged a lot of it. Another tenant liked to race his customer’s cars dangerously around the parking lot.

Finding a suitable place for an auto shop consists of a lot of things. Zoning, of course. New construction and some older buildings have to have fire sprinklers installed. Parking and of course, the neighbors. Our Mount Helix shop is the perfect size in a good location. My El Cajon shop is the best compromise of all the important factors we have seen in a very long time. We’ll be staying in these two locations.!

We’d love to hear more about your business.
Greg’s Automotive and Greg’s Automotive Helix are full service auto shops. We service most makes and models of cars and light trucks. We are known for integrity and honesty. Our techs are among the best, and we use only the best quality parts we can get for reasonable prices.

My company makes me proud by having an excellent standing in the community, doing quality work with every employee tuned to only the highest integrity in dealing with vehicles and customers. The fact that my employees can all come together and work as a team to deliver the highest quality maintenance and repair to our customers makes me beam with pride.

I believe that what sets us apart from others is our longevity with one family owning and operating it. Adapting to the multiple changes that have overtaken my industry hasn’t always been easy, but we have persevered.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
San Diego County and specifically East County is wonderfully filled with opportunities for a shop owner just starting out. The vehicle populations continue to grow, both in numbers and complexity. There will always be a place for an honest businessperson in East San Diego County. I would try to stay in the unincorporated areas.

If there is anything the city and county could do to improve the chances of a startup auto center is twofold. First, auto repair is no longer the dirty, polluting business of yesteryear. We have cleaned up our businesses and attentiveness to environmental issues across the board. So, please don’t let preconceived notions cloud the issuance of building permits, variances in zoning or even existing locations. The place to start would be to allow auto repair in less strictly controlled zoning areas. The number of parking spots that developers are allowed per business is often just not adequate. I understand they need a return on investment, but strangling small businesses of all kinds by only using the fewest parking places they can get by with can only lead to turnover in tenants. Startup auto shop businesses seldom have the capitol to build their own shops, so they are stuck with inadequate parking.

Sheri and I would like to retire someday, so we are grooming our managers for that day. Both of them, Marc and Lauryn are very adept at what they do. Our “junior ” manager, Geovanni learns quickly and will be good to go before we know it.

Contact Info:

  • Address: 1641 N Magnolia Ave, El Cajon, CA 92020
    4654 Avocado Blvd, La Mesa, CA 91941
  • Website: gregs-auto.com and helixautocare.com
  • Phone: Greg’s 619-440-4337, Greg’s Helix, 619-444-7993
  • Email: gregk@gregs-auto.com
  • Facebook: Greg’s Automotive and Greg’s Automotive Helix


Image Credit:
Greg Kelly

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