Should a tourist visit Branson, Mo., as so many do, he would be remiss not to take a leisurely drive into the historic downtown area, enjoying the antique brick buildings and waving to the friendly locals. But, should his vehicle suddenly break down, or make unexplained noises, or experience other issues, where is our tourist to go in this unfamiliar town?

Naturally, he would ask around, asking whom he should trust with his only mode of transportation. The waitress at the diner, the teller at the bank and the manager of the hotel all give him the same answer: Ed’s Downtown Texaco.

Ed Ulrich first moved to Branson from his hometown of Phillipsburg, Kan., looking for work and opportunity. Ed bought the Texaco station in 1991 from then-owner Carol Mease.

The employees bustling around the building and going about their work spoke highly of Ed. Trevor Ball and Ed’s grandson Adam Fields spoke of a heart attack that Ulrich had suffered on a Friday and yet had been back in the shop working the following Monday. They recognized the 73-year-old as being unbelievably “spry.”

Ed has a reputation within the town as well as within his own shop. He has been growing and nourishing this reputation of his since he first moved to Branson. While working for a car dealership in town, he noticed he began getting more attention and trust from customers once he became known as a “local.” He recognized early the importance of building trust, and establishing himself as not just a man behind a counter or under a car, but an important member of the community, and that is the role he has held for years in the town.

Ed’s business is old-fashioned and beloved by the town, and always expanding; now he even has a “rent-to-own” automotive-sales business.

Ed’s laser-point of focus has always been customer satisfaction. “We do what it takes to satisfy the customer … we expect them to come in with a frown and leave with a smile,” he said.

The Texaco station is undoubtedly unique: it is small and comfortable, and carries the now-old-fashioned ethics of customer-first service, so often forgotten by many places of business.

However, Ed’s exemplary ethics do not begin and end with customers. Ed has a philosophy concerning the hiring of new employees: he simply will not hire a new employee if that employee is currently working for another shop. A prospective employee must first quit the other job in order to be hired at Ed’s. He developed this philosophy from a former employer of his, Ken Awbery, who had run a local Chevrolet dealership. Ed greatly wanted to work for Awbery as service manager. Awbery was hiring, but, although Ed interviewed with him and explained his interest in the position five Saturdays in a row, Awbery was consistently vague with him in return. It wasn’t until the sixth Saturday when Ed informed Awbery that he had left his other job that Awbery finally officially hired him. What may seem odd was rather genius in concept, and a marking of true class. Awbery did not wish to have bad blood with former employers or receive a reputation as an employee thief. Ulrich carries on this tradition. By waiting until the future employee has cut ties with his former employer, Ulrich does not sully his reputation with other businesses when he hires the new person. He does not believe the industry should be “dog eat dog,” nor, for that matter, should the world.

This philosophy, coupled with his undying loyalty to his customers, makes Ed highly respected about town. He said that tourists make up the greatest percentage of his clientele, and largely because of referrals. “We take care of the local people and in turn they take care of us,” he said.

Though Ed is 73 years old, he doesn’t appear to be prepped for retirement any time soon, he has made it a family business and so the shop will undoubtedly carry his legacy for years to come.

Currently working for him is his eldest son Dane, who sells used cars, his youngest son Dean who works as an accountant, his grandson Adam who works as transmission and engine rebuilder and his granddaughter Amanda Fields who works in the office and pumps gas. The shop also recently hired the husband of another granddaughter, Brandon Inskeep.

Ed emphasized the importance, he felt, of having a woman behind the counter to greet customers. He said this was important because of the great number of women who make up his clientele.

Though some people may have issues working with family members, the employees working around Ed’s don’t appear to have any problems. Adam said that occasionally he and his grandfather will butt heads over something, but for the most part they make things work. “We get along,” Adam said.

Family has always been important to Ed.

He originally began his vehicular career in his hometown in Kansas working for his father, who operated a Chevrolet-Buick dealership. The dealership unfortunately shut down following issues with corporate management. Ed attended college for a semester, but decided to leave to better provide for his wife and children. His wife had relatives in Cedar Creek at the time, which is close to Branson, and in Branson Ulrich’s kids would not have to worry about competing with their friends. There he worked first as a sales manager for Morrissey Brother’s Ford dealership, and then two years later he went to work for Awbery.

Before Ed finalized the purchase of the shop from Carol Mease, he first worked for Mease for a year to learn as much as he could about the trade. When Ulrich purchased the shop from Mease, he told Mease that he did not want an ad in the paper, or any great hullaballoo over the matter. In fact, for a while after the purchase, when customers asked about Mease, Ed would simply tell them that Mease was on vacation. This would give him time to become a familiar face with the customers and they would not be worried about any great changes in the services along with the change in management. He had learned about the aversion customers have to change from his time working in dealerships. When a dealership was bought by another party the customers would worry that that meant a complete shift in direction.

Ed had actually had the opportunity to own Awbery’s dealership, as Awbery had offered it to him after just such a purchase. He declined because he “would never be his own boss” under the corporate owners. And being his “own boss” was precisely what he wanted. He had learned early on the potential issues of working for a corporate owner unfamiliar with the precise needs of the business.

With Ed’s reputation being what it is, there is no doubt his work in general service will continue and his work will continue to expand. He will continue keeping tourists on the road, and customers wearing smiles.

Since its opening, the station has operated not only as an old-school fill up where attendants will pump your gas for you with a smile on their face, but also as a full-service garage and used-car dealership. Well, almost full service.

Being in a smaller building, Ed, an ASE Master, and his technicians did not have the space for rebuilding transmissions. But, being ever the entrepreneur and never short on ambition, Ed rented out a metal building in the local community of Hollister, owned by AllTime Towing, in order to do just that work.

Within the transmission building, Ed’s employees not only rebuild that specific part, but also do other miscellaneous work that requires more space than allotted in the regular shop downtown. One particularly interesting project sitting in the shop was an old Russian Belarus 420AN tractor, which one employee, Trevor Ball, was replacing the clutch.