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Oconomowoc father-son auto business grows

Feb. 25, 2013

Forty years after starting as a small gas station and evolving as an automotive service station, Silver Lake Auto Center has opened a second location in the Town of Merton.

Dan Garlock always knew he wanted to work with his father in the business he began in 1973. Now he, along with his younger brother, Darren, are carrying on and expanding the family business, as co-owners and operators with their father, Walter.

The longtime Oconomowoc business grew from its origins to an 11-bay service center, with 25 employees, building a solid reputation along the way.

In January, the start of the company's 40th year, the family opened the Merton operation, with Darren managing the new site.

"We have been providing dealership-level automotive repairs while focusing on delivering premium-level customer service to the Lake Country area for decades

"We believe we can fill that niche ... while focusing on customer convenience," Dan Garlock said.

The new site is one block west of Highway E on Highway V V and features seven service bays.

Key among the changes that have occurred in the repair industry over the last four decades, he noted, is the role of technology.

"The days of being able to take something out and put it together again are over. You really need to be more of a surgeon or electrical engineer," he explained.

Garlock holds ASE master certification with advanced-level drivability. He is an accredited automotive manager through Automotive Management Institute.

"The classes have become more specialized, based on each manufacturer. Our guys have to learn not just one model, but they have to be well-versed in all models," said Garlock, who started working full time for his father in 1992.

According to the business website, Silver Lake Auto Center has three ASE master certified technicians on staff with more than 60 combined years of experience.

"Many of our staff have original manufactures' training on Audi, Volkswagen, BMW, Lexus, Toyota, Honda, Mercedes-Benz and numerous other European, Asian and import vehicles," it noted.

Garlock said that detail gains importance with more and more customers driving import vehicles.

Traditions and new plans

Garlock said he and his brother have learned from their father the importance of providing outstanding customer service and plan to carry on that tradition.

"He really passed that on to me. We try every day to improve ourselves," Garlock said.

He said they are striving to lead the pack in customer service.

"This is a very competitive environment; people have a lot of choices where they can go to get their car repaired," he acknowledged

Examples of that customer service are the popular fresh-baked cookies, coffee bar and soda made available free to customers. "The cookies are fun," Garlock said, noting they will be offered at the Hartland location as well.

In addition, Silver Lake Auto also offers broadband Wi-Fi connection for customers to use while they work, and couches or chairs for comfortable viewing of the high-definition television. Free courtesy vehicles are also available to customers while vehicles are being serviced.

"We want our customer service to be like an experience that would rival what you would get at Starbucks or Disney World," he said.

The owners are now working on a long-term plan for the business, with plans to expand still further.

"We have a five-year project for four Silver Lake Autos: one in Delafield, one in Pabst Farms and these two," Garlock said.

"It all depends on how the economy and the second location goes. This is a testing barometer," he explained.

But one thing remains clear.

"We want to cement ourselves in the Oconomowoc/Lake Country market," he added.

Another change in the business has been the decision to close one portion of the operation.

"We recently got out of vehicle sales. We still will order out for some customers we have a long-standing relationship with, but we found we enjoyed the service end to the car sales," Garlock explained.

To celebrate their milestone anniversary, the Garlocks would like to benefit the community.

"We are planning on doing a customer appreciation day/grand opening/40th anniversary celebration later this spring or summer. One of the things we'd like to do is have a barbecue cookout and sell tickets, with any revenue going to the food pantries in Oconomowoc and Hartland," Garlock said.

"We really want to do more giving back to the community, not only in Oconomowoc, but in Hartland and Delafield too. We think that is extremely important to do," he added.

Garlock said the second generation will carry on, building on the strong foundation set by their father.

"Darren and I have really taken hold and really made it our own and improved on it. He's pretty proud of that," Garlock said of his father.

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