Monday, 20 August 2018 18:14

50-Year-Old Emporia, KS, Body Shop Is In It for the Long Haul

Written by Lydia Kautz, The Emporia Gazette
John Wheeler, who owns Floyd's Inc., looks at the inside of a car. The business is celebrating 50 years of existence. John Wheeler, who owns Floyd's Inc., looks at the inside of a car. The business is celebrating 50 years of existence. Lydia Kautz/Gazette


An Emporia, KS, business is celebrating a half-century of service to drivers throughout the region.


Floyd’s Inc., an auto body and repair shop located at 1221 Industrial Rd., was opened by Floyd McCracken in 1968. Fifty years later, it’s still going strong under current owners John and Ruth Wheeler, who purchased the business in 2005.


“I didn’t want to have to break in a new boss,” John recalled. “I’ve been in and out of here since 1980. Floyd wanted out of it. He was ready to retire, and we’d decided years ago when he got ready to retire that I wanted to try to get it bought.”


A Lifetime of Repairs


John seems to have been destined to work in the auto industry.


His interest in cars started when he was in high school. Against his parents’ wishes, he chose to enter the auto industry, painting his first car with his little brother in their parents’ garage in the summer of 1975, the same year Wheeler graduated from high school. Together, they painted about six cars before they rented a shop to house their business.


He has been in the business for more than 40 years and at Floyd’s in some capacity for about 38.


“I spent most of my adult life in this facility,” he said. “It’s a good place to be.”


Before his purchase of the business, he worked as an auto technician for McCracken. According to Ruth, he has always had a special talent for painting and auto body repair.


“He takes a lot of pride in repairing cars,” she said. “That didn’t change when we purchased the business. It is always a priority to make sure that the repairs---whether auto body or mechanical---are done right. We have grown the business based on treating every customer as if they are family and providing quality repairs at a fair price.”


These days, John said, Floyd’s offers full mechanic and body shops, including body repair and painting. They don’t do many restorations anymore, he said, in part because of the amount of collision work he and his staff have on their plates and because of the time and expense of fixing up old cars.

“That used to be 20 percent of the business,” he said.


Perfect Partners


He has different duties now as a business owner, but when his employees have a significant backlog of work, he and his wife dedicate their evenings and weekends to working on customers’ vehicles.


Though Ruth works full-time as a Lyon County District Court administrator, she also spends time working on cars.


“I help him tear down cars and help with the painting and things like that,” she said. “I don’t do it unless he needs some help out there.”


Her husband recalls working on cars with her during a stretch where they were shorthanded.


“She’d get off work at 5 (p.m.), change her clothes, come out and do collision work ‘til at least midnight,” he said.


Often, John said, their sessions would last well past the stroke of midnight---until 3 a.m. sometimes. They do whatever it takes, he said, even if it requires a 90--97-hour workweek.


Ruth learned how to do auto body repairs, she said, from years of working with him. They’ve been working as a team since the summer of 1985.


“She’s a heck of a bodyman,” John said.


“I’ve done just about everything,” Ruth said.


They’ve rebuilt multiple vehicles that had been declared total losses. One of them, he said, Ruth drove back and forth to Ottawa for 20 years, putting about 100,000 miles on it before rebuilding another.


“If she didn’t have a real job, we’d have her out in the body shop,” John said.


Rolling With the Changes


These days, he said, they’re busier than they’ve ever been since he started at Floyd’s because of an overall industry shortage of people able to do what the job requires. He said he sees a lot more deer hits than he used to, with deer moving all year in a way they never did before.


They do end up with the occasional backlog, according to John, because there’s an increasing demand for auto body work and fewer people know how to do it. Multiple body shops have closed in the region, including ones in Burlington and Council Grove, he said, because it’s hard to find employees with the right skill set.

Regulations are constantly changing, as is the technology of the cars and the equipment they use. It can be hard to keep up. Insurance companies can also make things difficult, according to John.


“Their demands are getting greater,” he said.


John said his crew includes three of the best auto body workers around, one of whom has been in the business almost as long as he has.


“Your staff bails you out constantly,” he said. “I have the best crew now that has ever been in here.


“It’s like family. That’s what keeps us in business---the customer base and the employees. You can’t ask for better. Helps you sleep at night.”


They have many return customers, according to John. One of Ruth’s favorite aspects of the business is the customers.


“We’ve been fortunate,” she said.


She said her husband is extremely dedicated to customer service.


“John loves working on cars and he is very customer service-oriented,” she said. “Car crashes, vehicle damage and mechanical repairs can be very disconcerting for people. John’s first concern is always for the customer’s safety and well-being.”


Floyd’s draws customers from a 40-mile radius surrounding Emporia, John said.


“It’s a small market,” he said. “You live and die off your reputation.”


We thank Emporia Gazette for reprint permission.

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