As Jeff Engelbrecht pulls open the steel door leading to the back shop at West End Autobody, there is pride in his voice. It’s the kind of humble satisfaction that comes from someone who respects his past, but looks forward to the future.
At 33 years old, Engelbrecht is the third generation in the family-owned business. His great-uncle was one of the original owners back when the company operated out of a former roller rink on Yale Road. In 1973 his father bought the company. Then, three years ago the elder Engelbrecht chose to retire and Jeff Engelbrecht had an opportunity to carry on that tradition.
That’s not something he always dreamt of doing, he admits. Like many young people, moving into the family business wasn’t a priority.
At Chilliwack secondary, Engelbrecht was an active youth. He liked sports and he liked being involved with his school. He served on student council, and when he graduated in 1996, he delivered the valedictorian address.
When it came time to decide a direction for his life, he veered away from the autobody industry and studied business at Simon Fraser University instead.
But the door was always left open for him to return, Engelbrecht said. His father always made it clear that he was always welcome.
Chilliwack did have a pull on Engelbrecht. Not only was he born and raised here, but so were his parents; his grand-parents moved to Chilliwack after the Second World War.
So move back to Chilliwack he did, and 10 years ago Engelbrecht began putting the business skills he gained at university to work at home.
The auto repair industry has changed much since those early years at the roller rink. Today, computers, and laser-assisted electronics are as much a part of the business as a cutting torch was years ago.
Something that hasn’t changed, says Engelbrecht, is the need to provide outstanding customer service.
“Our reputation in the community is way more valuable to us than any advertising,” he says. “We really think of the customer as our boss.” Ninety per cent of West End’s business comes from repeat customers or referrals.
Engelbrecht also believes in giving back to the community that supports him by offering school bursaries, apprenticeship opportunities, and ongoing support for Chilliwack’s Restorative Justice program.
Engelbrecht and wife, Lena have two little girls, aged three and five. And while it’s still too soon to know if they represent another generation at West End Autobody, “They love to play with cars,” Engelbrecht says with a laugh. “So who knows? Maybe one day, right?”