John Burg has almost four decades of working in the small-engine repair business — over half of it running his own Key Peninsula operation, John’s Small Engine Repair.
“I grew up in a small town in Oregon and spent my teenage years working at my father’s service station and developed that blue collar attitude, where you work hard to earn a dollar,” Burg said.
After Navy service, he joined a friend who had a small-engine repair service for on-the-job training, then ended up taking a small engine class at Bates Technical College in Tacoma. But then he took a professional detour, spending seven years in the insurance industry.
“Using my brain wasn’t as rewarding as using my brawn,” said Burg, who decided that he would return to the business of repairing small engines. “I couldn’t get away from it.”
At John’s Small Engine Repair, Burg focuses on outdoor equipment, “anything related to lawn and garden equipment that has an engine attached to it.” This means that his business is closely tied to the seasons.
“My business is really driven by the weather,” says Burg, noting that with this past summer’s dry spell, his business slowed. “In the winter time, I root for windstorms and power outages,” Burg said. “In the summer, I root for rain at least once a week.”
Unlike other small-engine repair operations, Burg’s is focused solely on service; he doesn’t function as a retail outlet for any equipment. Through his various experiences in the industry before launching his own outfit, he could “see the ins and outs of the retail end and the service end of the business,” Burg said.
“When I got out on my own, I really wanted to focus on providing service for people,” he said.
The fact that he doesn’t sell any equipment allows him to provide unbiased recommendations to his customers.
“It makes it easier for me to recommend,” Burg said. “I want my customers to be happy customers.”
Ask some of his customers and you’ll find that they are a devoted bunch.
“I love the guy. He is the most pleasant person to work with,” says customer Ken Brown, who has been going to Burg for nearly a decade. “No matter what he is doing, he will take all the time to answer your questions.”
Not only does he answer questions but Burg is committed to giving his customers a fair and honest deal.
“My philosophy is that if I can’t fix something for someone, I won’t charge them,” Burg said.
As the economy changes, however, so does Burg’s business. Over time, he has seen certain shifts in his clientele.
“Younger generations are not as repair conscious as older generations were,” he said.
As lawn and garden machinery has come down in price, this “has made it easier to have that philosophy of ‘run it till it quits and buy a new one,’” Burg said.
Despite these changes however, Burg continues to have a devoted following.
“It’s mainly word of mouth and return business that I thrive off of,” he says. “I have to be fair with my customers or they won’t come back.”
This fairness and authenticity pays off.
“He’s as honest as they come,” Brown said. “You won’t find anyone who will say anything bad about him.”
Burg’s attitude has garnered him a following, and it’s those people of the Key Peninsula who keep him and his business going.
“I enjoy the contact that I have with the local community,” Burg said. “I try my best to please everyone.”
Hours: M-F 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays 9 a.m. to noon