As I entered B&B Auto at about 9 a.m. I knew my interview would be delayed. Receptionists Heleena Barnet and Danielle Ryczek greeted me as soon as I walked in but the waiting room was packed with customers. Owner Phil Baggio, was questioning a customer about his vehicle concerns while others waited patiently for their turn.

“This is a great place,” one man said to me. “Have you been here before?”

Phil said hello and said I could take photos inside the shop and he and his dad Ernie would visit with me as soon as he could get his head above water. As I walked through the bays all the technicians greeted me and explained what was being repaired on the vehicles in their bays.

Fifteen minutes later I was in the back office with Phil and Ernie. As I asked my first question, I already had figured I knew the answer.

“What sets you apart from some of the other shops in the area?” I asked.

Phil explained that his dad had had his own shop in Melrose Park, Ill., and as early as grade school Phil was expected to work when he wasn’t attending class.

“I think the difference is that I have been in the business a long time with my father,” Phil said. “I started at a full-service gas station. When I was off school my dad would wake me up and bring me to work. We ate dinner as a family and I would have to watch what I would say because if I said ‘Hey, I’ve got the day off tomorrow,’ my dad would say, ‘Great, you’re coming to work with me tomorrow. He’d wake me up at 5 a.m. and say ‘Hey, let’s go.’

“I would pump gas for ladies and bring out their cigarettes for them,” the 38-year-old shop owner said. “Back in the day, that is what we did. So, growing up in this business I grew up with the service aspect being priority. I think that transformed as I got older. Now, repair shops are becoming more by the book. I follow the old-school of business where you recognize your customers, their families – you put your customers first.”

He put that practice to work when he opened his own shop in McHenry in 2005 even though there was no gasoline to pump and no cigarettes to fetch.

His philosophy spills over to his employees as well. He doesn’t pay based on book rate. His eight technicians range from ASE Masters to entry level with only one or two ASE certifications.

“With my upper level techs I basically said, ‘You are Master Techs. You’ve been doing this a long time. What do you need to survive?’ So I pay them a good salary so they are comfortable and all they have to do is do their job. Entry level techs are paid an hourly wage.

“Being an owner/operator I am here 60 hours a week. Almost everybody who works for me has been here a long time and we have become a family. And part of that is because the techs aren’t on book time. They are not fighting for tickets. They’re not fighting for jobs. They are not fighting for their paycheck. Our goal is to service our customers so when we have a board full of tickets our job is to get that board done no matter what it takes. We need to work together. There is no battling against each other. Everyone has a good sense of family and that’s what I wanted to establish when I built this shop.”

Training is important to keep pace with the ever-changing technologies that go with auto diagnostics. Phil posts classes offered by NAPA, ACDelco and others and then discusses which Master Techs should attend. They in turn mentor the entry-level techs so they can advance as well. The shops two receptionists also attend classes on customer service, and even tires sales, since they are on the front lines when customers inquire about purchases.

Phil said the average customer has a vehicle that is about 10 years old, but they are starting to see newer cars with 50,000 to 60,000 miles on the odometers. The shop is open six days a week, but Phil said the techs rotate so they only work five days a week. If one technician needs a full weekend and he isn’t scheduled for it, another will trade days with him.

The shop charges an hourly labor rate of $98, which is considered very reasonable for the Chicago suburb. B&B Auto services an average of 200 cars a week, dealing with anything from oil changes to engine and transmission R&R, using products from Jasper and one other supplier.

Another item that was no surprise is how customers thank the shop members.

“We’ve got someone bringing in doughnuts or coffee cake at least twice a week,” Phil said. At Christmas time we get so many treats and cookies it’s ridiculous.”

A sign out front also points out the shop’s customer approval rating since it was voted “One of the Best Auto Repair (Mechanical) shops in McHenry County as voted by readers taking part in the Northwest Herald Readers’ Choice Awards for businesses in the Fox River Valley area.

“I think we have won the award for five or six years,” Phil said.

Phil’s dad, Ernie, is a regular member of the team and takes pride in being the driver of the roll-back wrecker when a vehicle can’t make it to the shop on its own power.

“I enjoy coming in and talking to customers,” Ernie said. “I have been doing this my entire live so it gives me something to look forward to every day.”

Like any shop, new vehicle technologies have the biggest impact on the shop, which continues to keep pace with those advancements.

“My father always taught me that competition was good and would keep me on my toes,” Phil said. “It forces you to rise above and try to do something different.”

New technologies have made a big impact on all shops and Phil said he works hard at staying up to speed with the latest changes, especially in electronics. But what if it’s an “oddball” situation that they’ve never seen before shows up – they need only go to next door to see Phil’s brother Steve who owns B&B Auto Plus.

Steve, a self-proclaimed computer nerd, started tearing into personal computers to rebuild them at age 12. Today, he specializes in reflashing computer modules. Some repairs are made at his shop, but he also acts as a mobile diagnostician, visiting shops that might being working on a particular vehicle they’ve never dealt with before.

What might be a very unusual problem for a particular shop, it’s likely something I see almost every day and is easy to fix,” Steve said. Looking in the bays explains his statement since they are filled with Mercedes, BMWs and other vehicles, where tech information can be hard to find.