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Tech Neeck's Auto Service: mom-and-pop service backed by top-tier expertise

John and Cynthia Neeck in the Tech Neeck's Auto Service repair shop in North Hudson. (Star-Observer photos by Chuck Nowlen)1 / 3
John Neeck pauses for a photo between repair jobs at Tech Neeck's Auto Service last week.2 / 3
Cynthia Neeck at the Tech Neeck's Auto Service customer service counter last week.3 / 3

As those close to John Neeck know all too well, he might as well have been born with a rachet in one hand and a torque wrench in the other.

Automotive service was always Neeck's calling -- and it always showed.

Even before he graduated from Hudson High School in 2000, his parents' driveway often looked like a repair-shop parking lot.

"I just always loved fixing things -- anything with a motor and anything that ran on gas," he chuckles in an interview last week at his new Tech Neeck's Auto Service in North Hudson.

"I'd fix my friends' cars, so there were always a few in my parents' driveway, and I had all the things I needed to fix them. You could always tell who lived there."

Adds Neeck's wife Cynthia, a North St. Paul U.S. Postal Service manager who also handles bookkeeping, and manages the office and customer service at the new two-person shop:

"He gets cars like nobody's business -- and he's so honest. He's very honest with people, and that's why people really enjoy working with him. It's like going to the doctor: Once you find a doctor you trust, you want to hold on to them. John is very much like that."

The trust factor is also backed up by more than 15 years of on-the-job experience mastering everything under the sun, which is particularly impressive, considering that Neeck is still in his 30s.

Right out of high school, he worked for five years at Crestview Drive's Randy Iten Chevrolet, which has since been replaced by Luther Hudson Chevrolet Service.

"I started as an oil-change and tires man there, and worked my way up," John recalls.

After that, he honed his skills further for more than 10 years at Holmen Auto Service in Maplewood. It's located right off Interstate 94, so Neeck saw it all.

"It's a very similar setting to what I've got here -- a small, independent shop," Neeck notes at his new headquarters at 605 Sixth St. N.

"I'm pretty much full-service here -- anything and any model. There pretty much isn't anything that I can't do. ... I look at the last 10-plus years at other shops, and we just did everything. In the almost six months I've been here, nobody has been unsatisfied, and nobody's come back because their vehicle wasn't fixed right."

Certified master

Along the way, Neeck also earned his National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence masters certification -- the profession's gold standard, which requires at least two years of on-the-job experience and a two-year auto-repair degree to even qualify for the exam.

Neeck got his degree from Penn Foster Career School in the early 2000s.

"The exams are not easy. Only two out of every three test-takers pass on their first attempt," notes the ASE website -- www.ase.com.

"To remain ASE certified, professionals must be retested every five years to keep up with ever-advancing automotive technology. "

Adds Neeck of the ASE certification: "More than anything else, that's what everybody looks for. I've had that for more than 10 years now."

Don't get John Neeck wrong: He's not one to brag.

"I'm not much of a taker, and I'm not much of a salesman," he notes in last week's interview at his neatly painted red shop just north of Michaelson Street on Highway 35.

Pressed by a reporter, he's just stating facts that he knows his customers will appreciate -- and, after all, that's what's always been most important to Neeck, even more so now that he's got a repair business of his own.

Plus, putting himself in his customers' shoes comes naturally. That's why he prefers a mom-and-pop business model that keeps everything up-close and personal.

It's literally mom-and-pop too: John and Cynthia have a soon-to-be 16-year-old son Cody, a sophomore at Hudson High School.

"It's just me here. I deal with everybody personally, so nothing gets lost in translation; and I follow up afterwards.," Neeck explains.

"It's also a small shop, so I have pretty low overhead. ... I have the ability to make everybody satisfied here myself. I want to make everybody who comes in happy."

Make no mistake about it, Neeck was happy at Holmen's Auto Service as well -- so much so that when his current location came up for sale a few years ago, he passed on the chance.

"It was kind of a road not taken. I didn't act on it right away, and then someone else was already in here," he says now. "It was one of those things where you kind of regret what you don't try."

So when a lease opportunity came up again this past November, the Neecks jumped on it.

John was now back in the town where he was born and raised. Tech Neeck's Auto Service is located just minutes from the couple's home in the Town of Hudson.

"I loved my old job. We're great friends still, and we still hang out all the time" he says.

"So I kind of quit my dream job to come here. I love working in Hudson, of course -- if there's bad weather in the winter, I'm just a minute or two away."

Neeck adds: "But, really, it's more than that. It's getting to make your own decisions. You're the one in control, and you feel maybe a little more freedom -- and that gives you a certain amount of satisfaction on its own.

"It's also been cool getting reacquainted with all of my friends here. I've known a lot of them for my entire life. So, for me, it's just getting up in the morning every day and doing my thing. I'm living the dream right here."

Moving in

Cynthia took November off to help John with Job One at their new business -- moving all the repair equipment John had accumulated in their garage over the years.

As you might expect, it had grown to the point where it was a super-condensed repair shop of its own.

"My garage at home was the coolest garage I've ever seen -- I already had all the stuff I needed here," John says, adding a little wistfully:

"It was one of the saddest moments in my life when we moved it all out, but we did have a lot of good times there. I don't know what we'll do with the garage now."

He continues with a shrug and a smile: "Maybe we'll put in a pool table or something -- or maybe some bar sports. You can only work on cars for so long."

Cynthia works 10 to 20 hours at the new shop, mostly afternoons when she finishes her North St. Paul post office shifts and on her days off.

And, no, she says, it's not a problem working with her husband every day.

"I think we're a good mix. We both love coming in to work together, so it works out well. He's got the brains for the cars, and I'm the office brains," Cynthia explains.

"A lot of people ask me, 'Can you really work with your husband?' I think so. I want to be his helper so he can just work on cars. I do the books, answer the phone, help him with computer ordering, do the customer service and things like that.

"I love talking to people, and I love working with our customers, so we've got the integration thing down pretty well. John and I both want everybody who comes in to walk away with a good experience."

And besides, working together is always fodder for some good-natured digs between them, which all happy couples can relate to.

"She'll yell at me when she balances the books and finds something wrong," John jokes at one point last week.

"Sometimes, I think that she won't quit until she finds something wrong."

He adds a few minutes later: "We don't really have a five-year plan for the future or anything. It's kind of 'see what happens and try to do what makes sense.' Honestly, if things just stayed like they are now, I'd be happy."

Tech Neeck's Auto Service is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and on Saturdays by appointment.

For more information, stop in, call (715) 808-0568 or go to the business's Facebook page. A website is coming soon.  

Chuck Nowlen

Chuck Nowlen joined the Star-Observer team as a business, township and general-assignment reporter in April, 2014 after a three-decade career in newspapers and magazines, and as a newsroom-management/business-planning consultant.

(715) 808-8286
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