For 47 years, Ray and Louise Shelton worked side-by-side running Ray’s Auto Body on Western Avenue in Knoxville, TN. For most of those 47 years, one or the other would greet customers---Ray from behind the counter or Louise from her perch at the desk in the corner of the lobby.
That’s how it was from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., five days a week.
The couple, co-owners of the business---which strictly does body work and paint jobs---sold their operation to longtime friend (and sometimes customer) James Bond earlier this year. In May, they spoke with the USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee about being in business for nearly 50 years.
Getting here and staying relevant
Ray and Louise are both from the region, Southern Kentucky and West Tennessee respectively, but met at a restaurant in Sedalia, MO, where Louise was a waitress. Ray joked that he tipped her good. This December, they’ll celebrate 59 years of marriage.
After a short stint in Missouri and eight years in California, the couple moved to Oak Ridge in 1968, where Ray was a partner in an auto body shop. Three years later, in 1971, they opened up Ray’s Auto Body on Texas Avenue, not far from where they would end up on Western Avenue in 1983 after road work caused them to relocate.
When they came to Knoxville, Western Avenue was two lanes. Now, in front of their shop, because of turning lanes and road work, the road is nearly seven.
The thought of doing something else never came up. Ray said he wanted to stick with what he knew and was good at. That and common courtesy kept them afloat across the decades, he said.
“It’s like I told (James) when he bought it: If you charge for what you do and do for what you charge for, just do it right … I guess common sense would tell you (that),” Ray said. “You actually treat people like you’d like to be treated.”
The Sheltons said they never felt the need to advertise in any major way; people just kept showing up, mainly by word-of-mouth and insurance companies. At the peak, they fixed 18--20 vehicles a week, they said.