‘Doing the right thing when nobody’s looking’

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Posted: Thursday, October 17, 2013 12:00 am

In the late 1950s, brothers Don and Ron Krzemien started a little business repairing bicycles.

Not long after, their skills were so honed and trusted that people started bringing them their cars. And by 1965, on a street corner in the heart of South Omaha, Don and Ron’s Automotive Service began.

Forty-eight years later and now on a brick road at 5329 S. 70th St., the second generation continues the tradition as Don and Ron’s Carstar Collision Center.

Last week, it earned one of seven Better Business Bureau Integrity Awards, a prominent feather in any business’ cap, but one the Krzemiens said is a reflection of their family’s commitment to their customers, employees and the community.

“Being a family business, we take everything pretty personally here,” said Christi Krzemien Krajeski, vice president of Don and Ron’s and daughter of Ron. “When we deliver a car to a customer, that’s a reflection on us. You’ve got to be honest, you’ve got to make the customer comfortable. Their car is their second-biggest investment and if you take care of it, you earn that trust.”

Whether deservedly or not, mechanics have long faced criticism as being willing to cut corners or upsell their unfortunate customers.

Krajeski said based on Don and Ron’s garnering of the Integrity Award, they’ve already had at least one new customer impressed that an auto shop was recognized.

“There was one man at the banquet who brought his car in this week,” she said. “He said, ‘It speaks volumes when an auto shop gets that.’ I hope it says a lot for the industry, too. We want to prove we earned the award. That’s the way it is around here.”

And Don and Ron’s marketing specialist Margaret Keith said all 15 of the business’ employees see their jobs as catering to more than just the car.

“When someone comes in, you want to show that you know how to fix the car, but part of the job is also to fix the customer,” Keith said. “A car accident is traumatic enough without having to be traumatized again when you take it to a shop. For us, the safety of the car is paramount, the quality of the service is paramount.”

Integrity Awards are earned in seven categories, based on business size. Don and Ron’s award was won in the category of businesses with 10 to 50 employees.

The company made an application for the award for the first time this year, what Krajeski called “our practice year,” based on the sheer volume of paperwork necessary to show what the business has done to promote ethical practices with customers, vendors and employees and practice outreach in the community.

In the latter category, Don and Ron’s has been a Ralston mainstay. The Krzemien families moved to Ralston in 1968, shortly after Don and Ron bought a farmhouse at 70th and Q streets to open their new business.

Since then, they’ve taken it as a duty to give back to the area. Don and Ron’s helps out with the high school’s auto shop classes, hosts training sessions for emergency responders to practice new techniques on the latest, technologically-advanced cars and takes the lead in the Recycled Rides program, which brings an older car into perfect working order for donation to a family in need.

The shop also takes on special needs students from Ralston High School a few times during the week and trains them on automotive maintenance as part of a work experience program.

“That’s a big part of the application, the community service,” Keith said. “And yes, we do a lot with the Ralston and La Vista chambers, but we also want to be out in the community and active.”

Keith spent several weeks compiling the application this spring, in advance of the deadline in June. The information sought by the BBB award electors was detailed right down to questions about signage and providing examples of ethical dilemmas the company has faced in the past.

“It’s a binder full of stuff,” she said. “They wanted to know everything. So we gave it to them.”

And while it might have been good practice, it also turned out to be good competition. Able to receive the award last week were Krajeski, Keith, Mark Krzemien (Don’s son) and Ron Krzemien, who, after his brother Don’s death, is still the owner of Don and Ron’s and still comes in to work.

“He’s still here every day,” Krajeski said of her father. “Still does maintenance and washes cars. That’s just the kind of business he built here and he wants to see it continue. Winning this award means we keep getting better. They say integrity is doing the right thing when nobody’s looking. That’s what we do.”

Billboards will soon be up around the metro area touting Don and Ron’s and the other seven winners — a nonprofit organization is also recognized — of the Integrity Awards. Keith said she expects one of the signs should be up at 84th and L streets, just in Don and Ron’s backyard.

“It’s a wonderful recognition for a great business,” she said.

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