Business Focus: W.C. Auto Center

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Everywhere one looks in the W.C. Auto Center in Huntsville, Texas, there’s a vibe of old-school hot rods, high-energy, new tires, and revved-up mechanics. Though the original structure dates to 1965, the inside shop is all business and positive energy. Bright decals announce auto brands; computerized diagnostic equipment awaits challenge; and a parking lot of automobiles, pickup trucks and RVs bear testimony to the shop’s popularity. Range Rover and Chevrolet wait their turns for attention beside Jaguar and Mercedes Benz, and even a Lamborghini has been known to visit. Local people and local auto businesses know this the place to bring their problems.

“Everything comes here!” owner Wayne Cummins says.  Dressed in his black “Automotive Solutions Experts” t-shirt, Cummins mans the front counter, greeting customers, researching solutions, and finalizing a five-week $50,000 remodeling job, giving the business its new, clean look. Cummins is polite, confident, and modest about his success.

Just as the cars on site are getting a new life, the shop has received a new roof, walls, ceiling, flooring, and air conditioning system. Fresh tan paint and a lively décor proclaim “Man Cave”, and exterior work is underway to polish the retro appearance.

At the front entrance, a custom neon “W.C. Auto” sign blazes day and night behind full lobby windows, the store name reflected in red on the polished linoleum floor. Through a back door, an employees-only garage is the domain of two mechanics with bays of projects ranging from an ebony Ferrari to a white Ford Focus.  Not far away, Boston terrier puppy Simone stands watchdog over shop and owner.

“We’re here to serve Walker County and Sam Houston State University customers,” Cummins says. W.C. Auto Center is located at 1412 University, a mid-point between Sam Houston State University and the downtown Huntsville Square.  This business works with A/C, electrical systems, antilock brakes, brakes, alignment, transmissions, front ends, engines, timing belts, power steering, air bags, cruise control systems, power windows, and more.

“I will always come up with a solution, based on the budget I have, and send the customer out of my shop in a safe vehicle,” Cummins says.  Now an ASE Master Certified Automobile Technician, Cummins began his love affair with mechanics out of necessity.

“My first car was a ‘78 El Camino … and it wasn’t great,” he says.   “I learned here and there, and I had to figure out how to put on a starter the first time it went out and a water pump when that happened. So I started learning how to do things.”

Despite college study, Cummins turned to technical school and later worked as a technician for Dodge and General Motors, then “turning wrenches” at an independent repair shop and “Getting dirty; it’s the only way to learn,” he says.

Cummins opened his own business in 1998 and moved to various locations, arriving at the current spot in 2007.  Today, W.C. Auto consists of the three-man Sam Houston shop, along with a four-man Highway 30 facility, specializing in transmission work, rear ends, four-wheel drive, and vehicle projects.

“We do an average of 32-35 cars a week at the downtown shop,” he says, “like the ’62 Cadillac one of my customers inherited.  She wants to drive Route 66 like her grandmother; we are getting the car ready!”

Cummins works closely with his on-site mechanics “family”:  Midway’s Kevin Chappel, an 11-yr employee, and Tommy Rawlings, an employee with 20 years of experience, are working downtown.  At the Highway 30 shop, Jimmy Phelps and Ryan Lambright are the mechanics on duty.

Cummins and crew research solutions using professional Internet services such as Identifix and Mitchell 1 for information on specific cars and problems. These services provide repair, estimating, maintenance, and diagnostic information for the automotive repair industry.

“I do the research myself,” Cummins says. “Sometimes I can find parts in another state.  For example, we’re doing motor work on a Ferrari, and I had to buy the motor from a place in California and have it delivered. When you order parts for a Ferrari, you’ve got to have good credit, and you’ve got to have patience. One small Ferrari part can cost $800 and have to make the journey from Italy.”

“Today I also do a lot of business for other local shops,” he explains.  “I have work from Charlie’s Used Cars, Dales Auto Sales, and Ringo Tire.  I get along with everybody!”

W.C. Auto is open 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. These hours allow Cummins to spend time with his wife Angela and support his kids in sports after work.

“I want to make it to those baseball games!” he says.  The Cummins family lives in New Waverly and boasts four active children:  Shelby, 22; Cade, 16; Reagan, 14; and Rhyan, 6. They all play sports—baseball, basketball, softball, volleyball and swimming—so it’s important to Wayne that he and Angela can “tag team” attendance at these games.

“Family motivates this business and its schedule,” he says. “My wife also gives me help at the shop, including decorating the new lobby and offices.”

Family heritage also influences W.C. Auto Center ethics.  Wayne says his grandfather was a tremendous influence on him, and his mother, Lynda Cummins, gave him the “push” he needed. “Because of him, I try to do the right things,” Cummins says.  “At lot of people would not conduct work the way I do. I will lose money to do the right thing. I’d rather lose a little profit than lose customers.”

The challenge is always working within a customer’s budget and solving the problem with available resources.  “There is something very satisfying about auto repair,” he says, “especially when a customer says they haven’t found the right repairman, and they come to you! There’s enjoyment in finding a solution quickly!”

Cummins admits to a weakness for buying, restoring, and selling special cars, with at least 10 hobby projects underway—including a Camaro convertible, a Mustang, a Firebird, and a’66 GTO.  His love of vintage cars has also involved him for 15 years with the Huntsville Cruisers, an association of enthusiasts meeting to promote and share a love of vintage cars. Cummins helps judge shows and makes more customer contacts at the events.

“One way or the other, I think my real obsession is to do something well,” Cummins says.  “It just happens that I’m doing something I like, even though I’m a little messy in the shop. I can still turn wrenches, but my real strength is problem solving. I just like the challenge.  It’s my intention to always be the best at what I do,” he says.  “When enough people trust you, and enough people are talking about that trust, you can start a business and still be around in 15 years.”

Tucking Simone under his arm, Cummins flips the lobby lights and locks up, leaving the W.C. Auto neon to glow into the evening. It’s time to play ball!

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