The Jeff McKinney name has been associated with auto body repairs performed in or near Fairport Harbor for more than five decades.
This tradition was started by Jeff McKinney in 1968 and continued by his son Jeff McKinney II in recent years.
What started out as Jeff’s Garage is now known as CARSTAR Jeff’s Garage, and the elder McKinney said the company has always been committed to providing excellent customer service.
“We made it our mission to make people feel that we have their back when the repairs are done here,” he said.
The younger McKinney said another key to taking care of customers is “treating people like family” at CARSTAR Jeff’s Garage, located at 1199 East St. in Fairport Harbor.
On December 1st, the McKinneys celebrate 54 years in their family body shop. The elder McKinney is still president and owner of the company, while his son is vice president and chief operating officer.
Jeff’s Garage’s household name changed slightly as of 2022 after the younger McKinney bought a CARSTAR franchise.
CARSTAR is North America’s largest multi-shop operator network of independent collision repair facilities, offering auto body repair, paintless dent repair and storm damage repair.
Adding Jeff’s Garage to the CARSTAR network will help the company become more competitive and successful, said the younger McKinney.
“The auto accident repair industry, like everything else, is changing and evolving, and the insurance companies are moving to nationwide contractors and they don’t really want to be involved with corner shops,” he said. “You will do it if you have to, but you’d better not.”
The CARSTAR network also has significant buying power, which helps franchisees get equipment and supplies at lower prices, the younger McKinney noted.
The transition required a lot of training for the owner and employees, as well as system changes and equipment upgrades. Over the years, however, the McKinneys have shown a knack for adapting to change and overcoming challenges while finding new ways to strengthen their business.
The elder McKinney founded and began operating Jeff’s Garage on December 1, 1968.
“When I opened the doors, I was working for Lincoln Electric,” he said. “I tried to run the store outside of business hours. That didn’t work out for long because there was too much pressure.”
The first location was in a rented building at 1000 High St. in Fairport Harbor. Originally, the company was a full-service mechanical and body repair shop.
“At the time I had a partner who did mechanical repairs, but that didn’t take long. He went out of business,” McKinney said.
Shortly thereafter, McKinney made some important decisions.
First, he left his full-time job at Lincoln Electric because he always wanted to have his own business. He also decided to focus solely on body repairs, but continued to call his business Jeff’s Garage.
Needing more space to grow, McKinney expanded the building in a deal with the property owner.
He also secured more off-site space by having a bay in a warehouse at the former Diamond Shamrock Corp. rented in Painesville Township. He did body work on customers’ cars in the warehouse and then took the vehicles back to 1000 High St. to be painted.
“So we went back and forth,” he said.
Eventually, McKinney saw a vacant lot on East Street where Jeff’s garage could have enough space to work in a single location. He made an offer for the property and bought it.
A building was constructed on the property, and in June 1990, Jeff’s Garage opened its new auto accident repair facility at 1199 East St., where it has remained ever since.
The younger McKinney was introduced to the business around the age of 10 when he came into the shop and helped his father.
“I started cleaning cars and sanding things down,” he said.
After high school, the younger McKinney attended Toledo University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in human resource management.
“My plan (after college) wasn’t to come back and go straight into the business (Jeff’s Garage),” he said.
However, after an unsuccessful job hunt, the younger McKinney reconnected with Jeff’s Garage. He accepted his father’s mission to open a rental car business to serve customers who brought their wrecked vehicles in for repairs.
The younger McKinney found success in 1996 by founding Jeff’s XPress Rent-a-Car. This company is still operated today in association with CARSTAR Jeff’s Garage.
In 2005, unexpected circumstances prompted the younger McKinney to take on a larger leadership role. That moment came when the elder McKinney suffered a serious head injury when he was hit by a heavy branch while chopping down a tree.
While the elder McKinney recovered, he said he knew he couldn’t go back and oversee the day-to-day operations of Jeff’s garage. He raised this issue with the younger McKinney.
“I said, ‘You know what, the choice is yours. Either you take it or we sell it.” I said, ‘I’m not going back to work. I could have been killed.’ ”
It was at this point that the younger McKinney took over as manager of Jeff’s Garage and remains at the helm 17 years later.
The younger McKinney said he takes pride in his work leading a company that generally employs seven or eight people, which can vary depending on the season and workload.
He has led the company through challenging financial times ranging from the 2008 recession to a downturn in the heart of the novel coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
The younger McKinney is optimistic about the future, particularly with regard to how converting to a CARSTAR franchise could boost revenue.
“We just want to get back up here instead of treading water,” he said.