Ross Schofield’s fantastic, terrific, very good year.

TRAVERSE CITY – Traverse City has a well-deserved reputation for cherries and a growing rep as a foodie haven, but rarely has it garnered national attention for auto repair.

This year, that all changed. In 2010, Marathon Automotive, at 845 South Airport, was named one of the Top Ten auto repair shops in the country by Motor Age Magazine. Its website, marathonauto.com, was named one of the best in the nation by the Automotive Service Association.

And still more honors came Marathon's way when the shop was chosen as one of the Top Ten Small Businesses of the year by the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce.

"2010 marks a pivotal year for Marathon Automotive," admits owner Ross Schofield. So what's the secret to the 30-year-old business' success? One reason, says Schofield: his staff.

"We couldn't do all we do if it wasn't for our people," he says. "We have 13 people, including six techs, and each averages more than 15 years with us. They're friendly people. It's very unusual a customer comes in and we don't know their name. We're casual, but very professional too."

Keeping those employees happy is high on Schofield's priority list. He offers health insurance, eight paid holidays, up to four weeks vacation and flexible hours to his staff. There's also a retirement plan that the shop funds with an additional 10 percent of each employee's pay. "That was important to me," he explains. "I want my people to know they would have a future if they stayed here."

Schofield also provides paid training for his technicians, who attend annual seminars to keep up on the ever-changing auto technology. "You shouldn't lose pay to get training," he says. "You can't keep good employees by working them stupid hours, weekends and holidays. I just treat people the way I want to be treated."

Throw it in Reverse

Schofield grew up in Delaware and headed west after high school. "I moved to Colorado to be a ski bum and work on cars," he recalls with a smile. He ran an auto shop there, worked in construction, and in 1978 eventually ended up in Frankfort. A buddy who hailed from the small northern Michigan town inspired the move.

In 1980 Schofield put down roots in Traverse City. He bought a Marathon gas station at the corner of U.S. 31 and 4 Mile Road, and Marathon Automotive was born. Twelve years later he built the South Airport Road shop, which he designed himself. Wise from his construction background, Schofield integrated several common sense principles into the building. Outside rows of overhead lighting are tilted at a 30-degree angle to send light onto work bays. Schofield also uses natural light to keep the clean interior bright and welcoming.

"The shop has lots of south facing windows – a rarity for an auto shop," he notes. "And we put in a fresh air exchanger that removes harmful fumes and airborne contaminants from the service bays. Natural light and fresh air makes for happy techs, and happy techs do better work."

An avid supporter of the automotive program at Northwestern Michigan College, Schofield sits on the auto tech board. "Ross has been on our automotive advisory committee since before I was here," says Wayne Moody, director of NMC's automotive technology program. "He is a firm believer in continuing education in our industry and has been a staunch supporter of our program for many years."

Schofield also has donated time, equipment and tools to NMC. The auto program was in danger of being eliminated years ago, but thanks in part to Schofield's support and enthusiasm, it is now flourishing. "It's an incredibly successful program at the college," he says. "They have their own building and classes are full-up."

Ross' Road Map

As for his remaining spare time … ? Forget the clichĂ© of the grease monkey with grimy hands, a cheeseburger diet and a perennial paunch. The outgoing Schofield is a zealous health advocate, vegetarian, lifelong yoga practitioner and devoted biker who joins with several cyclists for a ride every Thursday morning.

"Ross is a highly disciplined athlete," says Dan Edson, president of American Proficiency Institute, who rides with Schofield. "He's a great cyclist with many other interests and a true friend to many fellow athletes."

"It's a lifestyle," Schofield says with a smile. "I'm a biker, a skier. I just don't like staying indoors too much." BN

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