Pete Birchmeier sits at the conference room table: a rare scene, since he’s usually next to or underneath a car in the shop. As the shop foreman at Garber Chevrolet Buick in Chesaning, Michigan, he fixes the broken.
Today, Pete wears a black T-shirt. It says PETE in white letters near the pocket. His worn hands rest on his lap. He leans back in the chair.
With a history of nearly 40 years under this roof, Pete has a lot to reflect on. Retirement is on the horizon.
So, how’s Pete going to spend his time once he’s officially retired?
“I don’t know,” he says, shaking his head and rubbing his eyes. “It will be a sad day when I walk out that door. I’ve never been treated as good as I have working for Garber. When I leave, I’ll cry.”
Pete is one of the many skilled service techs that work at Garber Automotive Group. He helps cars get on the road safely by being efficient and dedicated to solving the problem.
With more years of his career behind him than in front of him, Pete said he is proud of his career and grateful to work for Garber.
What a journey it’s been so far for Pete…and it’s not over yet.
When Pete was a senior at New Lothrop High School in New Lothrop, Michigan, he took a two-hour automotive repair class.
The class provided Pete with a first-hand look at what he could do in the automotive world. Once he got that first look, he was hooked.
“I liked how hands-on it was, since I wasn’t into books,” he explained.
After high school, Pete enrolled in a technical school in Arizona. He graduated from a six-month program, then returned home to Michigan with hopes of working for General Motors.
The economy had other plans.
“It was 1981 and everyone was laid off, so I stayed and worked on the family farm until 1983,” he said. “We raised beef, hogs, and cash crop.”
Pete went back to his roots – but got a chance to return to wheels.
A Change for the Better
After a couple of years biding his time by working on the farm, a position opened up in Chesaning, Michigan – not too far from where Pete lived. He jumped at the opportunity.
“They needed someone to change oil, so I joined this dealership— it used to be called LaClair Sales— on April 18, 1983,” he said. “I always remember that date.”
Pete quickly proved himself. Because of his array of skills, he got promoted after six weeks to handle heavy repair work.
He put in decades in the shop as a LaClair Sales employee…until last year. That’s when he learned he was going to become a Garber team member.
“We knew Joe [Joe LaClair, owner of LaClair Sales] was getting old,” he said. “We heard he got an offer from Dick Garber. They told us, ‘You’re going to be better. You’re in good hands with Dick.’ I was never worried.”
The acquisition didn’t cause any concerns for Pete. Garber’s reputation spoke for itself, which added reassurance.
“I heard from people who did cleaning or detailing work for Garber and they said, ‘Oh, you’ll love Garber. You won’t have a problem. You have nothing to worry about,’” he said. “And they were right. When Garber took over the dealership, things changed for the better.”
Under Garber’s leadership, Pete said the shop received helpful repairs that they needed, including the addition of new hoists.
“The detail shop is also amazing now,” Pete added. “Right away, Garber gave us the updates that were long overdue.”
The team members also noticed a difference in how they were treated.
“Juan [Juan Bush, General Manager at Garber Chevrolet Buick Chesaning] would walk through the shop and see how everyone was doing,” Pete said. “When Dick Garber comes through here, he’s always a super nice guy to us all. Everyone shows genuine care for the employees. I’m not just a number here; I’m a person.”
The Little Things
Pete said Garber helps him feel appreciated every day that he comes into work.
“I love this dealership, and I love what I do,” Pete said. “It’s the little things that Garber does…like on our last check, I noticed I had more money. Come to find out, Garber paid 100% of our health insurance that month! Juan — our GM — is great and I couldn’t ask for a better guy to work for; we were meant to work together. We have cook outs. He comes in and says how great we are. Everyone cares about us, and it makes you want to come to work.”
The feelings of appreciation are mutual. Pete said he is grateful that Garber creates an honest, familial work environment and provides solid options to support his family.
“Our insurance is better and you actually get to pick what you want for benefits,” he said. “And as a customer, when you get service work done, we are honest. We don’t try to sell you something you don’t need. I’d have my daughters get work done here. We look at our customers as actual people, so, for example, if I know they’re on vacation or need their vehicle for business, we try to work it in, even if it’s after hours, because I try to put myself in their shoes and know I wouldn’t want to wait, so why should they?”
With nearly 40 years under his belt, what would he say to a tech thinking of applying to work at Garber?
“Apply!” he encouraged. “There isn’t a better place you could work. We have a great group of people. There’s not one person I don’t like, and we all work as a team to help each other grow. Asking questions is encouraged here.”
When he does retire, he has one short sentence packed with big meaning that he’d like to say to Garber:
“Thanks for everything.”
First job? I worked with my buddy at his repair shop. We graduated together. I did mechanic work and helped pump gas, since it was a full-service station.
First car? Bright red 1980 Buick Skylark.
Three things you can’t live without? My daughters & wife, a vehicle, my health
Something people would be surprised to know about you? I like to do woodworking. That’s my hobby. I also like to hike with my daughter; she lives in Washington.
What is a piece of advice you’d give to a new tech at Garber? Work hard and it will be acknowledged. You get what you give.