By Robert Bloch, Contributor

 

Here’s a marketing problem for you: How do you build a successful independent automobile repair business if you are a blind man …. named Edsel?

Edsel Hammond. Photo by Robert Bloch

Edsel Hammond. Photo by Robert Bloch

If you are Edsel Hammond of Charlotte’s Edsel Automotive, you do it by providing reliable, high-quality service at a reasonable price in a convenient location. Hammond has been doing just that for more than 20 years, at his garage on Mt. Philo Road, a few doors south of the blinker at Hinesburg Rd.

Giving your new child a unique name is quite the rage these days. For example, our mountaineering daughter Jamie and her husband Jim just named their new son Canyon.

But 53 years ago, when unique names were not so common, “car guy” Don Hammond loved his gold Edsel Citation convertible so much that he named his new son Edsel, not caring that he was naming his child after what was arguably the biggest failure ever in the car industry, or any industry for that matter. Whatever he thought of his name, young Edsel faced a bigger challenge when it was learned he suffered from a fairly rare eye condition, LHON (Leber’s Hereditary Optical Neuropathy). The condition rendered Hammond legally blind and today he scores a remarkable 10/650 on eye tests.  But like his Dad, Hammond became a “car guy” and despite his limited eyesight, an expert auto mechanic.

Hammond’s spotless work garage looks fairly typical, with a vehicle lift, workbench, and large toolboxes on roll-around casters.  I asked Hammond whether his blindness causes him to organize or work differently, or limit himself to certain types of jobs. Not really, he said, but added he tends to stay away from certain types of “torchwork”.  Hammond moves cars in and out of the garage himself, explaining he can recognize blurred shapes (like the garage wall) well enough that he has never had an accident. He also invested in state-of-the-art electronic diagnostic equipment to help stay current with today’s automotive technology.

Changes in the auto industry have tended to help independent mechanics.  Auto manufacturers have steadily squeezed the profit margins dealers can make on new car sales, forcing them to rely to a large extent on their service operations for sustained profitability. The increased dealer labor rates that resulted from this change made it easier for independents like Hammond to offer good value to customers while still turning a decent profit. Also, today’s automobiles last far longer than a generation ago which means a larger fleet of used cars need maintenance.