The first winter that Walt Stinnett opened his auto body shop, he heated the building using a wood stove. The next year, he was able to buy some coal.
“It was real tough starting out,” said Stinnett, who worked for the local Ford dealership for about 10 years before going into business on his own.
“When I started it, some people told me I’d only last 30 days.”
Instead, this Sunday he’ll celebrate the 50th anniversary of Stinnett’s Auto Body, a business that has grown to include both his son, Lee, and grandson, Zach.
“People in Blount County have been real nice to us,” Walt told The Daily Times.
Stinnett’s does collision repair, insurance processing, frame alignment, detailing and paint and body work. They also have a 24-hour wrecker service.
The business started on Montvale Road, and moved to its current location at 1755 William Blount Drive in 1990. They’ve grown from two employees in 1965 to 14 employees today.
Lee joined the business full-time in 1977.
“I just grew up going to work for my dad,” Lee said. “I kind of thought about doing a couple other things, but really wanted to do this.”
Ruth Stinnett — Walt’s wife and Lee’s mother — has also been a large part of the business.
For many years, she answered phones, took care of the books and bills, and “kept me and Papaw from fighting too much,” Lee jokes.
Zach also grown up around the business, and joined full-time after graduating from East Tennessee State University this May.
“I’ve been around it my whole life and want to continue to do what my dad and Papaw did,” Zach said.
The three generations are immensely proud of their family-owned and operated business, even as they acknowledge it can be tough.
It’s long hours, working on weekends and it’s hard to stop talking about work once you go home.
But they’re proud stayed an independent shop for five decades, especially as more and more small shops have been purchased by large conglomerates.
“And it’s going to stay that way,” Walt said.
Lee said they’ve focused the business on making relationships with their customers and that success is determined by having a good business reputation and doing a good job.
“The thing we always try to do is do a good job, and if there’s issues, take care of it,” Lee said. “Your service is the only thing you can provide different than anyone else.”
A lot has changed since the shop first opened. They have better equipment to work with, but the “whole thing has changed,” Walt said.
“When my dad started out, probably you were replacing 30 percent of parts and repairing 70 percent. Now it’s the opposite,” Lee said.
The business has two paint booths and mixes all of their own paint for detailing and body work. It can sometimes take mixing 10 to 11 paints to get the right color, Zach said.
“We try to take care of customers,” he said.
It’s not uncommon for them to have a two- to three-week backlog of vehicles to work on, but “people don’t mind waiting,” Walt said.
Stinnett’s Auto Body officially celebrates their 50th anniversary on Nov. 1, and is planning to have a customer appreciation event sometime in November.
We would like to thank The Daily Times for reprint permission.