Jerry Palmer owns and operates Jerry's Towing, DBA Jerry's Auto & Cycle Repair at 78 Houlton Road in Presque Isle. A military veteran, he's been in business since 1991 and has always had a keen eye for smart ways to diversify and grow his business. He is sure that the key to the success of his business is giving better customer service than anyone else, and the repeat customers and large number of referrals he sees is a testament to this. Jerry spent some time with us discussing how he started his business and how he has weathered the ups and downs of the economy over the past 20 years.
Maine SBDC: How did you decide to be in business on your own?
Jerry: Well, I was teaching at the time and when I was done with that I went back to college to finish up my degree. Then with my degree almost completed I decided to start my own business. I was looking through Uncle Henry's and found a ramp truck. I ended up trading the guy a 1971 El Camino for it and by the time I gassed the truck and got it home I had 38 cents in my pocket. I clearly remember that. But I'd been in the auto business before. I'd seen how people had done it wrong and how it can be done right. I figured if I could do towing for people and be even just a little more prompt and a little less expensive than the competition I'd have a pretty good business. Who wants to wait a couple of hours for someone to show up to tow your car if you don't have to? The towing business lead to car repairs, which I knew how to do, and then to becoming a used car dealer.
Maine SBDC: What kinds of things were most helpful in making your business a success year after year?
Jerry: I have to say that the biggest help to being in business on my own was NMCC (Northern Maine Community College). Right after I decided to start the towing business I went back to school and got my degree. The classes I took were so important. Then there was Rod (Rod Thompson, Maine SBDC business counselor). We've known each other since we were kids. He's helped me with lots of things through the years, working through financing and bouncing ideas back and forth. I also know lots of other business people and friends. No one is ever a genius and you've got to talk to other people and help each other out.
Maine SBDC: How has your business changed?
Jerry: Now I do towing for other businesses as well as my own, I do body work and diversified into other areas to make everything work. About ten years ago my wife, Tammy, joined the business which has worked out great. She started by dispatching calls from our house. Then we bought a building and that's where we are now. I still take calls in the middle of the night and go out to tow cars myself. That hasn't changed.
Maine SBDC: What was the toughest thing you've had to deal with along the way?
Jerry: By far the biggest challenge I ever had in this business was when the Cash-for-Clunkers program came out. I can see how it was good for the new car industry. But it wiped out a huge chunk of the used car business because all these cars were being crushed, not sent to auction. It took out a big slice of vehicles that certain customers wanted who would never buy new cars. You couldn't get these cars at auction any more, and it jacked up the prices of used cars overall, so these people weren't buying. That whole section of sales and the maintenance that goes with it were gone. I really thought that was it for us, that we were done. We're still feeling the effects of it.
Maine SBDC: How did you get out of that?
Jerry: Rod told me about ARC loans and helped me apply for that. I had always paid attention to keeping my credit good, so that helped a lot. That financing is what got us through that year. It was touch-and-go for awhile. Meanwhile, we got into trailer and RV rentals and then began to carry two different lines of motorcycles. We had to diversify to keep things going.
Maine SBDC: What do you see as the future for your business?
Jerry: I sometimes think about retiring. But then I wonder what I would do? I like to work and I like my business. I rescue families when their cars breakdown. I sell cars to students going off to school. People refer their friends and relatives to me. I'm helping people. So eventually I might sell the business, but I couldn't say when that might be.
Jerry's Towing - DBA Jerry's Auto & Cycle Repair
78 Houlton Road
Presque Isle, Maine 04769