The seed of an idea for a different kind of auto shop was planted in Jeff Smith’s mind about three years ago, on the first day of work for new employee Monica Lopez.
Lopez, a single mother of three children, had just moved to Laramie and found a job at TigerTree, which is owned by Smith. But the transition to Laramie was a rocky one.
“The day that I moved here, I totaled my car,” Lopez said.
She used the little bit of savings she had to buy a new vehicle that she described as a junker. Her luck went from bad to worse soon after when she drove to Denver to visit her mom, puncturing two tires while driving the new vehicle.
Without the cash on hand to purchase new tires, Lopez visited a rental operation that outfitted her with tires on an expensive payment plan.
The bad luck continued on Lopez’s first day of work the next day. While driving to TigerTree, located south of Laramie, she got a flat.
“I drove it on my rim because I had to get to work,” she said.
Smith noticed the flat tire and asked around to find the owner. Meanwhile, Lopez was panicking because her bank account was empty, and she didn’t know what her next step would be.
“I was out of options,” she said.
Smith told Lopez not to worry, purchased four new tires and rims for her, and instructed her to return the expensive rentals. Lopez’s panic changed to overwhelming relief.
“It was life-changing,” she said. “I cried.”
Today, Lopez is the service writer for Good Vibes Garage, 110 Howe Road, a new auto repair shop with an income-based price structure that aims to help all Laramie residents afford safe and reliable transportation.
As any Laramie resident knows, it’s hard to get around the city without a car, especially in the winter or with small children. Anyone living on a modest budget has felt the stomach punch of having to come up with hundreds of dollars for an unexpected repair. And when a vehicle is necessary to get to the job that provides the money for the repair of that same vehicle, well, the math doesn’t always add up.
“We started to realize that the transportation piece of life is extremely important and hard to make work for a lot of our community members,” Smith said.
Smith started TigerTree in 2007 together with his wife, Emily Parsons, after winning the University of Wyoming’s John P. Ellbogen $10K Entrepreneurship Competition. Today, TigerTree has 20 full-time and seasonal employees and offers a range of tree services across the region.
The company also has a fleet of vehicles, which it maintains in a large shop outfitted with a vehicle lift.
“We already had a large piece of the puzzle covered,” Smith said.
With the addition of a few pieces of equipment necessary for general automotive work, Smith was able to open Good Vibes Garage last month, with one full-time mechanic and three more part-time employees. Smith said the shop should be able to offer tire and alignment services within the next few months while also adding a few employees.
The garage has a sliding fee scale, with a standard rate of $90 an hour for labor, plus a standard mark-up on parts. Based on household size and annual income, clients can qualify for a discount down to as little as $40 an hour for labor and parts at cost.
Smith said the Good Vibes business plan relies on some customers paying full price in order to offset the discounted pricing offered to other customers. The shop already has lower overhead costs because they’re shared with TigerTree.
“When they trust Good Vibes with their car and their auto repair and they’re paying full price, they’re helping benefit the community,” he said.
For more information, go to www.facebook.com/goodvibesgarage or call 399-2820.