Goodbye 2018, Hello 2019

2018 was great. Now for 2019!

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We had some big changes in 2018

A new lift in Bay 2 was a good way to start the new year. We decided to try lifts other than Bendpak because we wanted to see which lift brand fits our needs best and the Challenger Lift has been a great addition.  Customers love its many features – the spin up pucks and the easy to operate lock release are the two most popular. We like the flexibility it offers in vehicle range. It fits small cars and big trucks well, and we got the height extensions that make it perfect for very tall vehicles.

We also changed out the lift in Bay 5, once again trying out another company. Rotary Lifts are regarded as one of the best on the market, so we were excited to see what options they add to the mix. The features that stand out most are the flexibility in pad placement as well as how quiet the lift is compared to the others. The low profile arms are also great for all the low cars we get here. 

The biggest change has been the workstations, which we’ll cover in more detail below. We were very excited for this change as the project took more than a year and thousands of hours to complete. We worked hard to come up with a new tool set and workstation for every bay, and we are glad that they have been received above expectations. We have received excellent feedback and are excited to make some modifications to the setup.

Last, but certainly not least, the changes to our website. We went with a complete redesign to make the website easier to use, and information more streamlined. I also started writing this blog to highlight the happenings of Stew’s Self Service Garage. 2018 was a very exciting year for all of us here, and I’m excited to share a little bit more about all of it.

The New "Stew's" Setup

The highlight of the year is definitely the new workstations. It’s a toss-up, though, which is the best part – the Shark Professional workstation or what is inside of them. We took your years of feedback on the tool sets and put it to action. We upgraded the quality of all the tools and made the tool set significantly more useful. We also made the set all Metric, so there wouldn’t be any more mixups with SAE tools being used by accident. We still have our SAE tools, we simply have a separate roll away box for them.

After we had the tools down, we needed somewhere to put them. It had to be something that would last forever, look great, and have a ton of function. We settled on this layout as it provided a 10ft work surface, all the room we needed for the tool set (with room to grow), put the hose reels into a more useful spot, and enclosed the garbage and cat litter. All of that also makes a much more attractive front of the bay. And as a bonus, the workstation counter has 6 outlets with an additional 4 USB outlets in it. Plenty of power for any device you bring with you. If you want to get all the details, I highlighted it in the May 2018 blog post, which you can find by clicking here.



Lots Of Cool Cars and Projects!

We love to see all the cool cars and projects that come in! They don’t have to be exotic; we love the variety. And a variety came in over 2018. From Ferrari’s to Lancia’s, we saw a good range of interesting cars. The day of the side-by-side Lotus Evora and McLaren 570gt certainly drew attention from everyone in the shop. While my personal favorite was seeing the Fisker Karma in depth. I don’t know much about Fisker, so getting to see one up close was certainly a highlight of the year for me. The battery unit change was a sight to see as well! There were certainly some cool projects too. We had a Jeep Wrangler do a turbo install, quite a few engine swaps, an engine rebuild on a WRX engine, repairs on a van traveling around the world, and much more.

Employee Appreciation Day!

This was probably my favorite day of the year. John, Rick, Steve, and Shawn work hard all year to help make sure you guys have the best experience possible. In 2018 we had our first ever Employee Appreciation Day, where we attended a Mariners game in the Diamond Club. The Diamond Club is an all inclusive premium area in the stadium with an open bar. We wanted to give back in the best way we could, and an all inclusive day at the ballpark did the trick. For all the hard work they put in, it was all worth it.

I’m excited to continue to expand our team in 2019! Be sure to thank the crew for all they do. 

Here's to saying bye to 2018, and looking to 2019!

I did some fun stuff in 2018! From Mariners and Huskies to visiting San Diego and Arizona. Seeing Pearl Jam at the Home Shows, and the shop shenanigans, 2018 was a great year for me. As you know from the other blog posts, the last section is a little bit about me. So I’ve put together a little collection of pictures that sum up my year.

Since Husky football season just ended, I have to start with that. My girlfriend and I are Husky football season ticket holders and tailgate before the games. It’s starting to become a tradition for us and we have loved being at Husky stadium on Fall Saturdays.

In August I went down to Phoenix and San Diego to see the Mariners play the Diamond Backs and the Padres. We stopped by the USS Midway Museum in San Diego to check it out. It was the highlight of that trip for me seeing the carrier. It took many hours to get through it all, but it was certainly worth it. Bonus highlight was San Diego has the paid electric scooters you can use, much like the Lime Bikes in Seattle. Except the scooters are MUCH cooler to ride.

When Pearl Jam was in town, we had to go and see their show! Of course being from Seattle, I enjoy grunge music even though I was born towards the middle-end of the grunge era. I’m not sure if all of Pearl Jam really counts as grunge, but we’ll throw them in there! I don’t get out to many concerts anymore, so getting to see the amazing show Pearl Jam puts on was great. One of the best concerts I’ve been to.

I’ll wrap it up with my funny shop shenanigans picture. A customer ordered this MotoRad part and I thought the brand name was hilarious. I figure if you throw up the hang loose sign and say “RAAAAAAAAAAAAD BROOOOOOOOOOOOOOO” while installing it, the part will never fail. So we now ‘bless’ all new thermostats with a “RAAAAADDDDD BROOOOOOOOOOOOOOO”.

Thanks for another great year! I’m looking forward to new challenges and adventures in 2019.  I’ll see you at Stew’s Self Service Garage!

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More new things in August

Always Upgrading!

We have a new lift in Bay 5! This lift is a Rotary brand lift, which is considered a top of the line lift. It differs from the Bendpak and Challenger lifts in how the pad is able to move as well. Other nice features are the arms are narrow and the pads screw up and down. Perfect for both trucks and low riders!

Why did we get another brand of lift? We want to find the best one that meets all the needs of our customers. We started with the Bendpak lifts because they were cost effective and highly recommended. Unfortunately there are issues with little details with the Bendpaks that make them not great for all around use. While we really like our Challenger lift, it has some issues with larger vehicles because it doesn’t have enough arm reach. Most vehicles are completely fine on the Challenger lift, however large trucks in particular you have to get them lined up perfectly. This can be challenging at times, so we normally try to avoid putting them on that lift. 

Enter the Rotary! Largely considered to be one of the best brands on the market, we wanted to also give it a shot. The Rotary has been great for both trucks and cars so far, which is perfect for us. The arms also have great reach, especially for lowered vehicles. We don’t want people pinching their side skits! We like many features on the lift so far and we will certainly be putting it through it’s tests.

All of this is testing for exactly what brand lift and what types we want for our future locations. We strive to only provide the best experience, and we are always working on fine tuning that even more. 

Cool Car Alert

It’s Italian, so you know the name is going to be a mouthful. It’s a 1992 Lancia Delta HF Integrale Evo I, freshly imported to the United States. Try saying that name three times fast. For those that don’t know, there is a 25 year import law. This law applies to cars that weren’t manufactured to be sold in the US and therefore didn’t meet the EPA and crash testing requirements. So why do people want these cars? Because they are cool, and ultra rare in the US.

So what is cool about this Lancia? It’s a rally car hero, with Lancia having a long history in World Rally Championship. Lancia won a lot of WRC titles in their day, and this car was the basis for many of them. Through the years they would modify the Delta creating a new version for competition. These cars were specifically built to meet the minimum road car build required by the governing body to qualify for the racing class. You were essentially buying a rally car that was legal for the road. These cars were very fast for their day, and they are still quick by any mark. This picture doesn’t quite capture the wide body work, but this car really has the late 80’s look to it.


Traveling For Baseball

If you haven’t read any of our other blog posts, you’re probably wondering why I’m talking about baseball. My goal with this blog is to not only highlight happenings at the garage, but also let you learn more about me. So, I’d recommend checking out our other posts!

In August I checked a couple more stadiums off my list! When the Mariners traveled to Phoenix and San Diego, I followed them along their trip. The picture above is from Petco Park in San Diego, which is considered one of the best stadiums in all of Major League Baseball. I also went to Chase Field in Phoenix, but I’m not going to talk about that much because I didn’t like their stadium at all. My opinion about Chase Field is that it is a large soulless box in the middle of the desert. If you are a D-backs fan, I’m sorry, you deserve a better stadium. I won’t return unless the Mariners play a World Series in Phoenix, so probably never again.

Petco park on the other hand is a fantastic stadium. There are many things to do and see inside the stadium, as well as really great food options. One thing I also really think is underrated in stadiums is the width of the concourse. In Petco the concourse in the majority of the stadium is large making walking around nice and easy without having to feel like you’re in a huge crowd.

My favorite part about other stadiums though is seeing their food options. Petco has a nice range of food, as well as high quality food. You can get anything from your basic hot dog all the way to fresh fish tacos on the main concourse. They also had more beer stands than I’ve ever seen in a stadium before. If there is ever a beer line at Petco, there wouldn’t be anyone in their seat. The beer selection was also pretty wide, which I know is an important factor for most.

My goal is to get to all 30 MLB stadiums before 30 years old, so next year there will be more stadiums to check off the list! 

New Workstations

Professional Grade Workstation Coolness

I am SO excited to get to talk about this project. Something that had been in the works for so long, and mostly kept under wraps the entire time. When we opened, we knew that the tool sets and workstation setup in the bay would change, we just weren’t sure exactly when. Last year in about May we started to talk about exactly what we wanted to do to make the bays better and what we wanted the final version to be. Our goals were to increase organization, reduce time spent looking for tools, and save you more money.

We started by working on an entirely new tool set, one optimized for use. We wanted tools that were used often and not tools that would get in the way. This started with removing all SAE tools from the box and going with a separate SAE rolling box to supplement the workstation box. Next we analyzed the tools that were constantly being checked out of the tool room. After going over months of data we determined the tools that were being checked out so often they had to be put into the box. We also knew quality of the tools needed an upgrade.

Once we had the new list of what we wanted, finding which company to get the tools from took center stage. I met with a couple different tool companies, including an in person meeting with one in Atlanta. After we were unable to come up with any sort of partnership agreement with any tool company, we decided we would create our own tool set out of whatever brand we felt was best.

I also had to decide on a workstation to order. This proved to be a new challenge for me since I hadn’t ever experienced a professional grade workstation. I met with multiple different companies’ sales reps, received many pitches, and quotes. We decided to go with Shark Professional in the end as it’s a local company and it was also the highest quality product we saw. You’ll find their products in many dealerships and in many high end performance shops. This was probably the most exciting thing for me, providing a truly professional quality workstation in every bay. I want you to feel you are getting a ton of value out of your rental. These workstations have a 10 foot long continuous stainless steel work top that is also almost 3 feet deep. I know you will love having the increased work space.

Enter a massive Amazon order of tools. We have a total of 7 bays, but must carry an 8th set as spares so if something gets lost or broken we can replace it immediately. This means we had a ton of tools upstairs, not literally, but I had you there for a second. The vast majority of the tools are from Gear Wrench, a quality tool even though they aren’t made in the USA. We chose Gear Wrench for their high quality at a fair price. 

We did reduce the total number of tools in the box from slightly over 450 down to just over 400. Though with the reduction comes a better selection of tools. The main reduction comes from no longer having SAE tools in the box, which accounted for approximately 200 of the tools in the old set. The new set includes a larger variety of pliers, vice grips, hammers, wrenches, and significantly better ratchets. So while the count is less, it’s a much higher count of useful tools for the majority of projects. The new ratchets in the box are AMAZING –  ratchets I would give as gifts to people. I’m not kidding, I discovered these ratchets about 7 years ago and everyone who used them wanted a set. So I started to give ratchet sets as gifts to my wrenching friends. These are the Gear Wrench 120xp ratchets, which are 120 tooth ratchets with the strength of a 60 tooth. To give you an idea, the old Craftsman ratchets were 40 tooth, a third of the teeth.

Why did we get rid of the SAE tools in the box? Quite simply put – they were being misused. The vast majority of cars that come in use metric fasteners, which meant when people used the SAE sockets they were prone to rounding off bolts and nuts; wasting time and money. So we took matters into our own hands. We still have SAE tools though! We just bring over the supplemental box if you have a car that uses SAE fasteners.

With the new tool set decided, it was time to figure out the organization. We knew we wanted to do the foam organizers like all the top tool sets are coming in. We actually tested a foam organizer from a tool company we considered ordering sets from but ultimately decided to go the hard way, and designed the organizers ourselves. Enter the skills of Solidworks from Steve. Steve modeled every drawer in the box in CAD by measuring the majority of tools and then using scaled pictures of the tools. This was a long process, but well worth it in the end. So big shout out to Steve, he really rose above on this one to knock it out of the park. 

Once Steve finalized a drawer’s design in Solidworks he passed the file off to me, where I then imported it into Fusion 360 to create the CAM for the drawer. CAM is computer aided machining, which means I made the code for the CNC router to use to cut the organizers. We spent a lot of time reworking the CAD files, figuring out how to optimize the cutting times, and getting everything just right. 

When a drawer was in testing, we cut them out of pink rigid insulation since it was fairly cheap. It was also very easy for the machine to cut and vacuum up, so it was great for testing. We would take every tool slot and fit the tool noting how much or more we needed to add on each face. Sometimes this was in fractions of millimeters. After multiple cut revisions, we finally got a piece that didn’t need any changes, and the final code was saved as a final edition. 

We also needed to test cut into the actual foam to get the cut settings dialed in perfectly. This process meant using the samples the foam company sent us, which turned out to be different than what we ended up receiving. More on that later. Once I had done some testing in the actual foam using a specially designed test code, we were ready to begin cutting final versions.

Not going to lie, we were down to the absolute wire on getting these organizers done. The foam we ordered ended up being the wrong foam, it’s way softer than what we were sent as a sample. Because of this, the wrench drawer absolutely would not cut. This ended up being a costly problem and ultimately means we will need to redo the wrench drawers. The last foam came off the machine at 2am Thursday the 19th, once again shout out to Steve for staying super late to get that last foam cut done. 

Install day! What a crazy day, and a long one at that. John, Rick, Seth, Shawn, Steve, and I unloaded the container, organized, and assembled every workstation within the day. We had only Wednesday to get this complete change over done as Thursday we had multiple full day reservations and a packed schedule. 

The truck was scheduled to arrive at 9am Wednesday morning but, as expected, showed up just before 10am. Unfortunately getting the semi and 40ft container into the parking lot and in place was going to prove to be a real challenge. 1 hour, 4 cars moved by hand, 5 cars moved under their own power, 1 trailer moved, and 2 dumpsters moved later we had the container in place for unloading. Exhausted before we started, it was time to get going. I cut the seal lock off the trailer, and the moment we had been waiting for was upon us. The container door opened, and I crawled in to see a container full of boxed up workstations ready to be unloaded and installed. 

John was the forklift expert while we assisted by bringing the pallets in the container to the forklift and then taking the pallets away from the forklift on the ground. We staged every bay with the boxes and then began un-crating them. The moment of truth was here, we were finally going to see the custom powder coated Stew’s Blue work stations in person. The box was stunning and better than I expected. They are also absolutely massive, with each drawer being 43″ wide and 26″ deep. A single bank of 6 drawers also makes them significantly easier to navigate, which is awesome and time saving.

All the components of the workstation were finally ready to assemble, which meant arranging and leveling. Each workstation is tilted back a degree to insure that it CANNOT tip over. Yes, unlike the old toolboxes, these boxes don’t tip over. Once every component was leveled, the tops were placed and secured. We also installed the power outlets into the tops. There are now 2 banks of 3 outlets with 2 USB ports. These stainless steel tops are serious business, they weigh well over 150 pounds, and are extremely solid. 

Boxes assembled, it’s now about 12:30am, Steve, and I have been there all day. Foam organizers and tools have been going in the boxes all night, we are busting our butts to get these ready. Shawn had also returned at about 9:30pm to continue helping. Exhaustion is upon us, but there are still foams to be cut. Steve volunteers to stay behind for sacrifice – I mean to cut the last foams. I depart at 1am, not knowing if I’ll find a sleeping Steve upstairs next to a running CNC router in the morning. Fortunately Steve left around 2am, only to return at 7:30 later that morning to pick right back up.

Thursday morning 7:30, Steve, Shawn, and I are back at the shop to finish loading tools into bays, which we do at 9am. Time to open the doors and reveal all the months of work. Success! Reception to these boxes has been AWESOME. Honestly, better than I ever expected. For that I thank you, for all of us who put so many hours and effort into making this possible. 

What I do on a daily basis

Of course, I want to continue my trend of something about me personally. That was part of the inspiration of writing this blog monthly!

I do a lot of different things on a daily basis, depending on what’s going on in the background. I have to wear a bunch of different hats as a small business owner, trying to be a master of all trades. Typically my daily happenings center around projects we have going on in the shop. There’s always something happening in the background, as my motto is “always improving.” 

Over the past 6+ months working on this upgrade, my presence at the desk and in the shop had decreased greatly. I had to learn how to do CAD and CAM work, which I sure spent a lot of time on. On average I work around 100 hours a week, which is the standard life of a business owner. My day starts at 8am and goes until about 1am, with most of that time consisting of working on something for Stew’s Self Service Garage. Lately it had been spending 10+ hours per day working in Fusion 360 learning the CAM side of the program and then picking up on the CAD side of it. Within a couple weeks I had logged just under 200 hours, going on to log about 1000 hours by the end of the project in mid April.

I have always been very interested in CNC work, but it was always just a little bit away from feasibility for me. I have to spend my hours carefully in a day, so before this project it just didn’t make sense to pick up this skill. I decided to learn this skill as the price to have a CNC shop make these organizers was going to be astronomical. I also had a ton of fun doing it, which is ultimately what counts. 

People will ask what I do, or if I like what I do. My response is almost always, “I have a lot of fun.” This might not be the answer they were looking for, but to me it’s the important one. Having fun in life is living, so I try and make that my focus. 

I have some more tricks up my sleeve for this year, so be on the look out for the latest. In the mean time, click that book now button up top on the menu to check out these new workstations!