Winnetka mechanic grew up with gears
Bob Berger of Winnetka owns Hubbard Woods Motors, a fixture since 1961. He enterprised a lost key tag mail drop box system which is legendary with thankful customers. | Karie Angell Luc~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 28, 2013 9:26AM
WINNETKA — Bob Berger’s mechanic hands are squeaky clean. The owner of Hubbard Woods Motors, which celebrated 50 years of business in March 2011, grew up Wilmette, Northbrook, and Northfield.
His secret to clean hands is blue Dawn dish soap. “It’s the best,” said Berger. Nowadays, his hands rest on his favorite tool, a computer, leaving the tinkering to the expertise of his staff. Berger has four children, Barbara May of Arlington Heights, Robert Berger IV (a journeyman in Appleton, Wis.), Nicholas (of Colorado) and Adriann, a Palos Hills third-grade teacher. He and his wife Sandra, a Northfield consulting business owner, who live only minutes from the shop at 985 Green Bay Road, are grandparents.
Q. Tell us about your need for speed, or simply cars.
A. I didn’t really realize it when I started in business but money was not the objective, and I think that is one of the things that has helped make the business successful because I’ve always put the needs of the customer first. I assumed that if you just keep doing the right thing over and over again, the rewards will follow, and that’s really what has happened.
As a kid, I couldn’t stay away from gas fumes and lawnmower engines and motorbikes and motorcycles and that sort of thing. So, it was just kind of natural that I would gravitate into this business.
I’ll tell you an interesting thing. I went to a 55th reunion of my grade school class from Wilmette and one of the girls that attended brought in a yellow legal pad that she had made notes on when we were in the eighth grade at Saint Francis School in Wilmette, and it was a little poem about each individual person, and the poem for Bob Berger was:
“Nuts and bolts and rusty screws
“The life of a mechanic is the one I’ll choose …”
That was in eighth grade. So I think I was kind of destined to end up in the car repair business. I love what I do. I look forward to coming into work every day. Love solving problems for people. Love giving them more than they expected. And my crew has the same philosophy.
Q. Can you explain your new idea?
A. I recently did a little thing just as a favor for our customers. It’s becoming apparent if you have a late model car and you happen to lose your keys, it can cost you 500 dollars to have them replaced, not even considering the inconvenience. So I designed and had made a little tiny tag that goes on your key ring that says, “Drop in any mailbox, postage guaranteed.”
The keys come back here to our shop. And each one has its own sequential number. So when I give one of these key tags to a customer, we enter their name in a log, so if those keys are ever returned here to the shop, we call the customer and get them connected back up with their keys.
I am amazed at how delighted people are. It seems like such a simple solution to a big problem.