Most people don’t naturally think of cats when they think of auto shops. Or vice versa.
But when customers walk through the door of Turbo Tim’s Anything Automotive in St. Paul, the first greeting is usually not the friendly staff, but the cats sleeping on the couches and cat beds or stretching out on the reception.
Yes, Turbo Tim’s did the seemingly unthinkable – they combined their love of kittens with their talent for automobiles. The shop has become a hit in the community.
“I saw there were cats and the reviews were good,” said Olivia Nesgoda, 18, a student at Hamline University, who stopped by Turbo Tim to get her car fixed before heading home at her home in Grand Marais, Minnesota the following weekend. “But the cats piqued my curiosity.”
In the automotive world, Turbo Tim’s stick out like a sore thumb in the colors of the rainbow: the lobby of their St. Paul Midway location is brightly lit by floor-to-ceiling windows, every garage door is painted a different color and a giant cat tree is tucked in the corner, usually with a cat or two basking in the sun.
It all started with Bobby. About 10 years ago, Rachel Grewell said she received a call from her co-owner husband, Tim Suggs, who told her he had picked up a stray cat and planned to give it a forever home in their store.
“I was like, ‘Really bad idea! This is bad. How will this work?'” Grewell said. “And then she walked into the store and everyone fell in love with her and all the mechanics had sweet things with the cat. Like – all the customers were thrilled to see it and I was like, ‘Okay, it’s working.'”
Soon everyone knew there was a cat at Turbo Tim. And one cat quickly became several. Customers who were no longer able to care for their cats brought them to live with Turbo Tim. Charlie, a big, cuddly Bengal cat, was a stray an employee found. Stan, a regular at the store, frequently shows up with cats in need of forever homes.
“The cats just come when they’re supposed to be here,” Grewell said.
Today, there are six kittens roaming around Turbo Tim’s St. Paul location, which opened in June, and four in northeast Minneapolis.
“The stores feel like a very welcoming environment for a variety of people,” Grewell said. “We really want it to be that way and for them to feel comfortable. They can talk to anyone and ask any questions they have.
Cats are often stress relievers for customers and help create a calm atmosphere around the store.
“If you have to wait for your car and you’re stressed, having a cat on your lap makes it a little easier,” Grewell said.
In addition to automotive services, Turbo Tim’s participates in many community outreach services and projects, such as women’s workshops where women in the community can learn more about their cars and become more involved in the automotive industry. They organized car workshops with the YWCA program, Girls Inc., as well as local Girl Scout troops.
“You never know what people will want to learn,” Grewell said. They teach women how to check tire pressure, how to change their brakes, and practice starting a car and refueling with some of the younger groups of girls.
Other humanitarian projects include a partnership with Lift Garage, a nonprofit organization aimed at lifting people out of poverty and homelessness by providing low-cost car services and highway cleanups. They partner with community members to host events in their space, from puppet shows to Art-a-Whirl.
“It was pretty early where we were like, we have this space. We have resources. He is available,” Grewell said. “We like to have fun, people need space to organize events. Let’s do this.”
In March, Grewell and Suggs were named Humanitarian of the Year at the VISION HiTech Training & Expo among thousands of attendees.
Connect with customers
Kevin McGrath, Marketing Director of Turbo Tim, says he’s not a car expert. He started working at Turbo Tim’s as a janitor. Being an outsider in the automotive industry has allowed him to connect with customers because he “thinks like customers think”.
“I really tried to focus on perfecting what we do,” McGrath said. “If we weren’t doing these other things, cats would appear as a gimmick, maybe. By people seeing that they can trust us and that we’re listening and being active in the community, not just here doing our business…now we’re here at Midway and it’s important to bring the same to a new neighborhood.”
Like the building itself, Turbo Tim’s website (turbotims.com) is brightly colored and filled with kittens. McGrath even created some fun bios to add to the website along with a list of services the store offers.
In turn, to create an inclusive community at Turbo Tim’s, customers also give back and add to the store. Customers bring cat toys and treats. Nighttime security camera footage often reveals people stopping to say hello to cats, or even putting treats under their door. Someone collecting junk from the store constructed the cat logo from sheet metal for Grewell, McGrath and the gang to hang inside their store.
“We’d like to let people have some kind of agency and the freedom to feel that they can kind of add to what we’re doing here,” Grewell said.
At the heart of it all, the folks at Turbo Tim’s have created a high-quality service company where workers and customers can march to the beat of their own drums.
“We really do what we love. There is a lot of joy in our work. There is a lot of humor in our work. And there’s a lot of creativity,” Grewell said. “I really wanted to incorporate arts and humor into the work we do, making it a better working environment.”