Ever since John Letts opened his first service station in Lakewood, CO in 1993, he envisioned the future in a “retro” style building his auto repair business would ultimately occupy 11 years later in nearby Golden.
It’s ironic that the building of his dreams began as a “rundown gas station,” as Letts described it. “We hired contractors to convert it and ended up doing most of the work ourselves, even adding a third service bay. After nine months of building we got to open it.”
Viewing the building’s striking exterior belies its previous life. The contemporary façade contrasts sharply with vintage gas pumps - strictly for appearance - and a restored 1930 Plymouth parked out front, a throwback to those memorable, early days of motor travel.
Customer-Comfort-DrivenInside the customers’ waiting area, it’s easy to see that automotive expertise is not the only reason why Letts enjoys a thriving business. Gleaming black and white checkerboard tile floors are reminiscent of the ‘50s. Plush seating for customers waiting for a lube and oil change or minor repair. Available hot and cold beverages. A diverse selection of current magazines - no year-old, dog-eared doctor’s office material here - to suit a variety of tastes.
It’s the middle of winter, and in the service bays, the hydraulic lifts are now operating with precision smoothness, elevating cars for repair. Oil changes are quickly accomplished, with new oil pumping effortlessly from a 150-gal storage tank. And Letts and his repair technician Ben Bronnenberg are working comfortably under their new Solaronics infrared heating system - no drafts, no blowing dust or dirt - while outside temperatures are plummeting into the minus digits.
But reaching this level of comfort and operating efficiency was a struggle, Letts admitted. He opened the transformed building utilizing the existing old unit heater that came with it and just blew warm air. “With forced air, every time we opened the door the air would run out.” He added that it couldn’t keep the building warm, which stymied winter operations because the hydraulics were slow to lift the cars, and the air pump couldn’t suck up the congealed oil from the storage tank. Also, it was expensive to operate.
Deciding On A System“We had a long investigative study of what would be an appropriate replacement,” Letts continued. “I was thinking oil burner. But I was thinking too much maintenance. I like to keep the doors open in milder weather and you couldn’t do that with oil burners or unit heaters.” James Gagliano, owner of Million Air Mechanical, Inc. in Denver, recommended Solaronics heaters for the way they provide heat, their energy efficiency and dependability.
“Heat loss is a big problem with old style units,” said Brian McLane of Air Purification Company, Solaronics’ Colorado and Wyoming representative. “Cars go in and out all day, but the heat goes out and stays out.”
McLane, who has helped countless numbers of automotive service businesses improve the comfort and efficiency for employees and customers, explained that Solaronics gas-fired infrared heaters quietly radiate infrared energy that is converted into heat as it reaches work surfaces, machinery, tools, people, and concrete floors, similar to the way the earth is warmed by the sun. The heat is retained at the floor level where people work, and also in the concrete floor itself, so after the doors close recovery time is fast.
“Solaronics gave the biggest bang for the buck,” Letts related. “It made sense to me that if it heated up everything it would radiate heat into the place. When I pick up a wrench now, it’s warm. You don’t pick up an ice cube. Everything is warm to the touch.”
Besides enjoying his comfortable workplace, Letts appreciates the lower heating costs, which his business manager Kathy Cordova estimated to be about 60% to 70% less than the previous year.
“I like the idea of the savings and dependability ... when I turn the heater on the light comes on and that gives me comfort, as does the heat,” Letts said. ES