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Seven Days: Vermont Car Blog

February 04, 2009

Service With A Smile

Reputations have a way of getting around. Wayne Racine, the longtime service manager at Goss Dodge in South Burlington, has a reputation for treating his customers like friends, or even family. One of his customers, who felt that Racine had treated her as well as he would his own daughter, encouraged me meet the man myself. So I did. (And yes, Wayne is related to the other Racines in the local auto community)

Wayne_racine BOB KILPATRICK: How long have you been at Goss Dodge?
WAYNE RACINE: Well, I started when I was 16 years old. I hate to tell you how old I am — I’m 59. I was in high school and we had our used car lot on North Avenue in Burlington. You know where the orphanage is over there? Well, there’s a gas station over there, too. There’s a new one now, but the old gas station used to be our used car lot. When I came on I was cleaning cars, shampooing rugs and spray painting engines. One of my jobs was to transport all the cars. I got to drive all the muscle cars — the original Challenger, the Daytona/Superbird. That was a good job for a 16-year-old kid. When we weren’t reconditioning cars, we’d pump gas. Basically it was a filling station. Back then Gulftane gas was 28.9 cents a gallon!

BK: And it was called Goss Dodge?
WR: It was called C.H. Goss Company. Henry Goss owned it. I think we’ve been in business since 1908. My father worked here for 50 years. He worked as a service manager for 25 on North Avenue. We moved over here and he was in sales for 25 more. He’s like me; he spent his whole life here. It’s the only job he ever had. I took a four-month leave of absence and went to training with the Air Guard. So my legitimate time starts in 1973. They gave me a plaque during the Christmas party for 35 years [of service]. But actually, I’ve been here longer. Doug Hoar came here in ’68. I came here in ’67. We were both driving Dodge Swingers. He had a red one and I had a blue one. We used to do these rallies in parking lots. You know, where a grocery store would be closed on a Sunday? We’d do time trials through the cones. Those were the good old days. Back then there was a service manager here. He went on vacation for two weeks, and they wanted to know if I’d fill in for him. I’d never talked to customers. So I said, “Sure, I’ll fill in for him,” and he never came back. A lot of people, they just don’t show up. So that was it.

BK: What do you drive now?

WR: I have an ’08 Dodge Avenger R/T. It’s inferno red with a big V-6, a six-speed automatic and big 18-inch wheels. It’s the first four-door I’ve ever owned, but it’s muscular. It’s got the flared-out wheel wells and everything. It’s a nice-looking car. I always like to get new technology, the first-year cars. Have you seen the new Challengers upstairs? They’re beautiful cars. Like I said, I drove the originals, so it really brings back memories.

BK: In the past 35 years, what changes have you seen in the automotive business?
WR: Technology — it changes so quickly. If you got out of this business and three years later you came back and tried picking up where you left off, you wouldn’t have a clue. I think last year our training expenses were $30,000. I sometimes use the old term “mechanic,” but these guys are really technicians. You’ve got to be smart. The old image back in the ’60s and ’70s of a “grease monkey” — that just doesn’t apply anymore. Every guy has to do 40 to 45 hours of training every year just to keep up. If we didn’t do this, Goss would lose its Five-Star Certification. There’s no ifs, ands or buts — in this company it’s not an option not to do it.

BK: What changes have you seen in Chittenden County in the last 35 years?

WR: Burlington is clearly different than Middlebury or St. Albans. We have guild meetings for all the service managers [in Vermont]. We all get together and compare notes, and what’s changed is the customers in Burlington are all wham-bam, “I need it done” . . . It’s “me, myself and I.” You talk to people down in Middlebury — it’s only 32 miles away but it’s a completely different mindset. People are laid back. Here, it’s almost like you’re in Boston. People have become very, very hard to please over the years. You get your bad days where you say, “Why did I even come to work?” Other days — especially if you get tourists who are broken down and can’t get home — it’s pretty satisfying to know that you’ve helped somebody.
I’ve got a lot of letters — they’ve got some of them framed up in the hallway, and I’ve got so many letters saved at home. It’s self-satisfying, especially when [customers] write and say they were made to feel really comfortable here. Most of my customers I know on a first-name basis, and that’s the way I try to treat them. I try to treat everybody as if they’re a really good friend of mine . . . even if they’re obnoxious. People tell us all the time, “I could have bought a different car up the street, but I come back here because I feel comfortable.”

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