Queensland’s Samford Garage was established nearly 100 years ago and still serves a loyal and ever-growing population.
A bout 20km northwest of Brisbane, once you leave the built-up surrounds of the city, is a classy country town where the distinctive Samford Garage proudly sits on Mount Glorious Road. “Samford’s a unique community; once you travel across the (D’Aguilar) Range you’re in another world,” says proprietor Ross Pickering – Rossco to his friends and loyal customers.
Cars have been coming to this spot for the best part of a century. In 1926 an independent garage was established here selling Plume and Voco petrol, alongside Overland and Whippet cars. “The upright posts for the garage were dressed using a broadaxe,” the history file shows, while photos hanging in the office show scenes of times when the view was nothing but rolling hills, the road unsealed and the signage across the decades changing from Shell to Mobiloil to Golden Fleece.
“It used to be if a car went past, you’d go outside to see who it was,” Ross says. “There was such little traffic.” Positivel – from a business point of view anyway – it’s a far busier spot today. Ross has been in the area his entire life, and used to visit his auntie in the region from about 1950. He remembers the garage then being “a rugged country tin shed. It had bowsers out the front, and was once a GM dealer.” Ross began working at Samford Garage in 1968 when he and his family first moved to the town. “The workshop didn’t exist back then,” he explains. “We had two mechanics and an apprentice inside a small workshop in the service station, which we ran as franchisees. We wanted to go independent, so built the workshop out the back.” In 1972 Ross held a 50 per cent share of the business, and when his colleague Cecil Smart retired in 1993, the Pickering family – Ross, wife Janet and three kids – became sole proprietors.
What strikes you is the impressive frontage that’s perfectly in keeping with the town and history. “After the shed was built we put the façade up to make it colonial type,” Ross explains. But inside it’s perfectly modern with an excellent open and light working space thanks to the high roof, eight hoists and a total of ten staff – eight technicians and two on front office. Ross reckons an average of 25 cars come through each day, mainly for general servicing and repairs, but the garage sees itself as a one-stop shop for customers.
“If You Build A Reputation For Trustworthiness And Expertise Your Career Can Be A Happy And Long One.”
Samford Garage do Queensland safety certificates, engine tuning, new tyres, wheel alignment and balancing, suspension repair, transmission, auto electrical, air-con and 4WD. Ross is all too aware of the challenges of providing so many services, but accepts the associated expense. “To service modern vehicles you have to invest heavily in diagnostic equipment, and have to be re-training all of the time,” he says. “It’s expensive to invest, but worthwhile. If you don’t you get left behind.”
To imagine the change in vehicles Ross has seen since he started in 1968 to today is hard to fathom. But while the electronic advances in cars has been like night and day, the customer service side of things has been more constant. “We pride ourselves on customer service,” he says. “Everything is warranted, and if there’s a problem we fix it. One thing that hasn’t changed over the years is our mechanics take their time to do a quality job for our customers. You’ll never be treated as just a number or have your car shunted through like a sausage machine.”
As with practically every independent workshop owner I’ve spoken to, Ross says his biggest challenge is dealerships trying to take all the work. “It’s been going through the ACCC for probably 30 years to try to fix the problem,” he says. “There’s a voluntary code of conduct, but things keep going backwards. It’s all about code encryption. You can find out what’s wrong but you can’t change it. It’s always at an extra expense to the customer.” Positively, Ross has been in the game long enough to not let this dissuade him. The garage is only six years away from its centenary, and he’s put a succession plan in place to happen around 2026. His son Steven is the expert at front office, and he and his two sisters are hopefully going to continue the long family operation. As for celebrating the 100 years, Ross says they’ll do special things throughout the year, including monthly giveaways.
Importantly, the garage’s link to the community means it’s very well supported, including examples of three generations of families who have used its services. Samford Garage sponsors Riding for the Disabled, plus the local soccer, netball and riding clubs, and that’s the kind of community connection that leads to loyalty, along with trusted service.
Chances are this historical site will still be around in another century to come. Evidence that if you build a reputation for trustworthiness and expertise your career can be a happy and long one. If your workshop happens to be in one of the most beautiful parts of Queensland just a short drive from the state capital, well, that’s a very happy bonus.