Ding’s Garage in Knowlton, is celebrating 25 years of service. William “Billy” Mckellar and Arlene Mckellar took over the garage in 1997 from John Dingman after he decided to retire. Working in mechanics from a young age, William always wanted his own garage and they saw a window of opportunity. With a two-decade journey in serving the community in more ways than one, the Mckellars aren’t planning on slowing down any time soon.
William worked at various garages in Knowlton during his summer vacations from school, starting off pumping gas at 13-years-old and then learning mechanics from his father, a truck driver who did all of his own repairs. He and Arlene married in 1979 with Arlene working as an amateur artist and Billy continuing in mechanics learning the ropes from Ruth Patch, Arsen Choinière, and then John Dingman.
“He (John) decided to retire in 1997 and then we took over,” said Arlene. “I knew nothing about mechanics or garage business. This has always been us; whatever we do, we do together.”
They thought about opening their own garage from their home, but they did not want to pass up on the opportunity. It was William’s dream to have his own garage and despite not knowing anything about mechanics, Arlene was all for the adventure. “We do everything as a team. I learned a lot over the years about vehicles. We had one employee when we first started so I would help out in the garage too plus do the office work,” mentioned Arlene. “At one point I was balancing tires, I would put my red apron on and go out in the shop.”
When they first took over, Arlene said that William noticed how much more comfortable women were with coming to the garage with her presence and they made it a point to develop a trusting relationship with their clientele.
“There was always this thing that women would be taken advantage of because they didn’t know really what the mechanics were talking about,” she explained. “We made it a point that when we find a problem with the vehicle, we take the clients in the garage bay, show them what the problem is, and explain to the clients, male or female, because there a lot of guys that don’t know anything either, they just turn the key and drive. We like the idea that our clients are knowing what they are paying for; we’re not just sitting in the office.”
Arlene said that providing their clientele with those services and developing that relationship is what has allowed them to be successful over the years. “Our clients are not just clients. We don’t know them by their vehicle, they are friends also. When Billy first started pumping gas, we have a couple of clients that are still with us.”
They started out by doing general mechanics, then added in a wheel alignment lift and machine, electronic diagnostics, and now they are in the process of building a new team and hope to bring other skills to the table. “Right now, we have pretty much new staff and they’re younger so it’s kind of more dynamic,” said Arlene. “They bring news skills and they are constantly training. We signed up for training courses for them.”
Apart from their mechanical services, Ding’s also wanted to serve the community in other ways, something that Arlene says makes them unique, and so they created a reading program at Knowlton Academy called Village Reads, they donate to the children’s fishing derby in Brome Lake every year, among other initiatives.
“We actually talked to clients that were high school teachers and they were worried about children coming to high school that didn’t know how to read properly,” explained Arlene. “We contacted the school and found there was a need for this because a lot of kids need that one-on-one, especially with both parents working, there’s not as much time for family time. We found volunteers – a lot of them newly retired, and looking for something to do, and they were able to go in and create a bond with that child.”
More recently they’ve been doing a fundraiser for the oncology department at the Brome-Missiquoi Perkins Hospital having donated over $7,000, with an original goal of $2,500, after Arlene was diagnosed with cancer last year; a difficult time for the Mckellar’ that they overcame together and with the community’s support. “It’s funny because I have clients that have bought new cars and we have tires in storage here and they tell me to sell the old tires and give the money to the oncology department,” laughed Arlene.
Despite a rough and busy year, Arlene said that she and William don’t plan on stopping anytime soon and are proud of how far they’ve come. “If it weren’t for the loyal clients, we wouldn’t be here for 25 years.”
In honour of their 25th anniversary, anyone who goes to Ding’s for a service in the month of March has a chance to win a $250 gift certificate at a restaurant of their choice in Brome Lake. The drawing will take place on March 31.