Becky Newton (253) 983-7738 • Fax (253) 983-7895 • BNewton@cityoflakewood.us
Economic Development Manager

“Still small enough to care”

When J&J Autobody opened 42 years ago on South Tacoma Way the auto repair business had one building with three stalls.

Today its operations are spread across 38,000 square feet of real estate and four buildings – the body shop, paint shop, frame shop and detail shop. The business also has 16,000 square feet of fenced storage.

Owner Bill Jensen has come a long way from that first day of work when he was “pushing a broom” around the shop he opened in 1975 with his brother.

Standing outside his office at 8322 S. Tacoma Way in Lakewood, Jensen recently reflected on how far the company has come from those early years of chasing used cars and fixing trade ins to pay the bills.

Before expanding into Lakewood in 1997 the bulk of Jensen’s business revolved around accounts with local dealerships on South Tacoma Way – fixing dings and other imperfections.

Those were simpler times, before cars had airbags, cameras or computers.

As the car industry has incorporated new materials and advanced safety systems into its vehicles, so too has J&J Autobody evolved to meet the needs of its customers and their cars.

The company added state of the art equipment like a laser measurement system and computerized Pro-Spot resistance type spot welder to its collision repair tool kit.

J&J Autobody’s commitment to excellence goes beyond its equipment. It is recognized as a Gold Class Facility by the Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair.

Roughly only 10 percent of repair shops meet the rigorous standards required to achieve this rating, according to I-CAR.

This attention to detail is no surprise to those who trust their cars with J&J Autobody. The business has built a reputation over the years as the place to go to have a car repaired.

That loyalty is demonstrated in the high number of returning customers.

Office Manager Connie Pena noted they have clients who are the third generation in their family to use the shop. They’ve even had a  customer two their car from the Washington Coast to Lakewood to be repaired.

“We guarantee everything we do for life,” said General Manager Loren Vormestrand, who added he views every car that comes into the shop like it’s his own.

Because of its commitment to its clients and its reputation as a trusted collision repair business across Western Washington, the city of Lakewood recognizes J&J Autobody as its May 2017 Business Showcase.

With a goal to be the premiere tennis club in the region, the Lakewood Racquet and Sport Club offers its members more than just a place to play tennis or work out.

“It’s a social club,” said General Manager Bruce Dayton.
 
A love for tennis attracts people initially, but it’s the sense of community that keeps them coming back. All employees are also club members, and the activity calendar is chock full of non-tennis events like men’s and women’s dinners, mixed outings and family summer picnics.
 

Founded in 1962 the club operates out of a nondescript building at 5820 112th St SW. To the average passerby the facility blends into the landscape, but walk around the property and you quickly see there’s more than meets the eye.

The site is just over 10 acres with less than half of the property developed.  

The club boasts four indoor and six outdoor tennis courts, three air conditioned racquetball courts, a wallyball/pickleball court and indoor basketball hoop.

It also has cardio and weight equipment, a personal trainer and other workout opportunities available to members.

In the summer the outdoor pool bustles with activity as children and adults cool off on hot days. Camps are available for kids, and lessons for players of all ages and abilities.

“It’s a very tight community,” Dayton said. “The Lakewood Racquet and Sports Club has been a hidden gem in Lakewood.”

The club got its start after 50 people came together and agreed to contribute $500 a piece to get it off the ground. Today there are more than 600 members.

A nine-member board of directors runs the member-owned club. Currently the board is working on plans to expand the club footprint and offer more opportunities for its members.

At one time more than half of the club’s membership was at least 60 years old. Today that number is around 25 percent. A number of factors played into that decline, including older members passing away and an evolution in how people spend their free time, Dayton said.

The club works hard to meet members where they are in their busy lives, he said. Once people realize the opportunities available – and how welcoming it is – they see the benefits of joining.

“The entertainment value here is amazing,” Dayton said. “Our goal is to still be the premier tennis club in the South Sound.”

It is because of this personal connection and its longevity in Lakewood that the city of Lakewood recognizes the Lakewood Racquet and Sports Club as its April 2017 Business Showcase.

At 19 years old Doug Graf had no idea that his first car would one day lead to a business venture.

“It was instrumental in ruining my college career,” Graf joked about his flashy 1961 red Corvette.

Truthfully, ownership of that car ignited Graf’s love for Corvettes which decades later led to the founding of his Lakewood-based business: Classic Reflection Coachworks.

“The Corvette is the most collected vehicle in the world,” Graf said.

He should know. He has customers as far away as Switzerland and Germany.

But the work Graf’s company does inside the Lakewood Industrial Center isn’t your traditional restoration. It’s the opposite.

“Instead of taking an old car and making it look new again, we take a new car and make it look old,” Graf said.

People give Graf and his employees perfectly good cars and ask they be torn apart. They can choose one of three models to replicate: 1958, 1962 or 1967.

The end result? A custom car with the body lines of a classic Corvette complete with new upholstery and amenities like heated seats and present day technology.

Seated in the office of his business at 4425 100th St SW, Graf explains the evolution of how he went from being a Budweiser beer distribution business 

owner to owner of Classic Reflections Coachworks.

When Graf sold his beer distributorship in 2003 he wasn’t ready to retire. That’s when the son of an electrical engineer let his genes take the wheel.

A self-professed analytical thinker with a history of taking things apart and rebuilding them in his own style, Graf undertook a personal project: the conversion of a 1993 Corvette into a 1962 Corvette – at least on the outside.

He started with handheld models – a 1962 Corvette and a C5 Corvette (the model designation for cars built from 1997 to 2004) – and pieced them together.

They fit.

Next he created scaled and three dimensional drawings to determine whether a present-day car could be converted to one from decades earlier.

It could.

From there he knew what he had to do.

“We bought a brand new Corvette Saturday and on Sunday I was cutting it up with a saw,” he said.

Graf and his wife took the finished car to a car show.

“It was a huge hit,” he said.

From there the road was clear. He opened his business in 2005.

Back then he didn’t envision he’d one day occupy a space like the one he’s at in the Lakewood Industrial Park.

“My intent was to buy a small shop somewhere and have a couple people work for me,” he said.

But when people saw what he could do they wanted one of his cars. Once he was up and running Graf had “more orders than I could fill.”

Demand has ebbed and flowed in the years since, but Graf estimates the business averages 17 cars a year.

 

His first car took him three years to complete. Now they are transformed in 10 weeks.

All the work is done in house and the materials made in America.

The cars are rebuilt by 11 employees inside the 15,000-square-foot industrial space off 100th Street. Graf also owns two smaller locations in the city where items are stored.

They start by peeling off the panels of the “donor car” – the term used to describe the car that will be transformed. The body panels are sold and the interior is taken out (it will later be reinstalled).

The body is created using molds and composite that is cooked in a massive oven at high temperatures.

Once cooled the body works its way through an assembly line of sorts, stopping at different stations around the warehouse to be cut, trimmed, sanded, painted and buffed before it is reassembled on the donor car chassis.

Ninety percent of the car parts are made in-house, said Julie Stacy, Graf’s daughter who manages the office. That includes chrome bumpers, trunk spears, the trim on the grill and side pipes.

Taillights and emblems are a little trickier, so those come from licensed sellers, Stacy said.

“We want to have the highest quality so we do it in house,” Graf said.

A 40-year resident of Lakewood, Graf has made his business available to local service clubs who want to meet among the “Retro Vettes” and he’s also opened his doors to vocational schools and their students.

Graf has also hired a handful of Clover Park Technical College graduates over the years.

For its significant contribution to innovation and the creation of family wage manufacturing jobs, the City of Lakewood recognized CR Coachworks as its February 2017 Business Showcase.‚Äč

To see how CR Coachworks transforms its cars watch thisvideo on the city's YouTube channel.

Aacres, LLC has a simple philosophy: We say ‘Yes’. That’s according to Embassy Management LLC regional director Mark Beagley.

Since purchasing Aacres in 2014, Embassy has established an accommodating environment focused on meeting client needs.

“We’ve got an organization that really supports us,” Beagley said of Embassy.

That’s important because Aacres has a goal to serve “every individual that comes to us.”

“We don’t typically say no to referrals,” Beagley said.

Founded in Lakewood in 1974, Aacres provides community support for people with developmental disabilities.

Its focus is to connect clients with residential services with the intent to give them as much power, choice and independence as possible.

“It’s as close to the lifestyle you and I are living as possible,” Beagley said from Aacres office suite at 8815 South Tacoma Way in Lakewood.

Clients range from high-functioning with minimal need for assistance to those who need care 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

How it works:

Clients are referred to Aacres through the state Department of Social and Human Services. Aacres staff reviews the packet and meet with potential clients.

“We want to determine if we can meet their needs and they decide if we’re the right fit for them,” Beagley said.

If both sides agree, the client is prepared for move in. If a home isn’t available, Aacres house hunts and will even assist with buying furniture and other necessities if needed.

Often two to three people will be housed together, after it’s determined they are compatible roommates.

The company has 131 clients statewide. Most are in the South Sound region living in 67 homes that span between  Tacoma and Lakewood.

Each client has a support team rallying around them. That includes a supervisor and case manager and coordinator who oversee behavioral and medical needs.

There’s also housing staff which fill multiple shifts to make sure someone is always present in the homes.

In some cases Aacres staff is the only one advocating for the clients, while for others family members are involved but unable to be there full time.

Without Aacres and its services the alternative would be dismal, Beagley said.

Instead of living in single family houses and apartments where they have independence, people could be in mental institutions or homeless on the streets, he said.

“They’d be struggling,” Beagley said.

Aacres relies on community partners like Pierce Transit to help transport people to and from appointments and work, and connects with other agencies to provide vocational training and jobs.

Aacres employs 560 people, making it one of Lakewood’s largest employers.

Because of its position as a top employer in Lakewood, its longevity in the community and its enthusiasm for the city, the city of Lakewood recognizes Aacres LLC as its March 2017 Business Showcase.

Chambers Creek Veterinary Hospital was started in 1971 by Dr Max Flockerzie who lived and worked in the Lakewood area. Dr Max worked with military dogs as an army veterinarian in South Korea before starting his practice in Lakewood. Dr Peter Yantorni, also a local resident, came on as a partner shortly after the practice was started. The veterinary hospital began as a small operation located at 7521 Bridgeport Way with a following of clients willing to entrust their non-verbal family members to the doctors. The pet-owning residents of Lakewood began to notice the good work of the hospital. Their reward for good work was a committed patronage-- and more work. As their reputation has grown, so has the size of their hospital; the Chambers Creek Veterinary Hospital moved to a larger building at 7210 Bridgeport Way Way in 2001. They employ a staff of roughly thirty people, with three doctors seeing several dozen patients every day. Their services have grown to support the needs of their clients, and they offer wellness care, comprehensive dental care, and integrative medicine including acupuncture and massage.

Compassion and empathy. Dr Yantorni and Dr Flockerzie believe their hospital’s mission is to help people care for their pets. Attentive, caring service starts with employing quality veterinary doctors; ones equipped with kindness, knowledge and experience. A veterinary hospital needs a healthy workplace environment-- one that is supportive, that celebrates talents, and that takes joy in the contributions made by each member. These are the requisite criteria to be able to help clientele. It allows staff to be compassionate under stressful conditions, even life-or-death situations, where the options seem limited in number. Clients can rely on doctors to come up with solutions, either in-house or through partnering with specialists.

With animals, as with people, preservation begins with shelter from fear. Chambers Creek Veterinary Hospital believes in delivering fear-free veterinary services to the public. Hospitals can induce anxiety in most creatures; the Chambers Creek Veterinary Hospital takes steps to decrease anxiety. They recommend local trainers and behavioral specialists to clients, to reinforce positive habits with their pets. Structural divides and dedicated entries separate dogs and cats from each other, to avoid instinctual urges to fight or flee. The staff extends comfort to animals, to make the visiting room less tense. Sometimes it’s as simple as cat nip, music, pheromones, or warm blankets for old bones. This detail is a component part of a larger holistic approach to emotional and mental health.

Preventative health services. Holism, as a guiding principle, asks healthcare professionals to consider the upstream determinants of being. They use specialized preventative care to keep pets healthier longer. Part of that is supporting good oral hygiene. Another is informing healthy nutrition and dietary habits. The hospital offers pet annual wellness (PAW) plans, which allow for discounted care towards basic preventative services, smoothing out the costs of maintaining positive health over a longer period of time. They also offer bathing and boarding on a needs basis for their patients. These services all go to support stronger teeth, illustrious coats, bright eyes, and big smiles.

For their dedication to healthier pets and happier families, the City of Lakewood recognizes the Chambers Creek Veterinary Hospital with the business showcase award for January 2017.