Mike - "Your Tow Guy" The rest of the story...
It all began in Cleveland , Ohio . At the age of 21, Mike Reiter was driving a 1970 Chevrolet ½ ton pickup truck with a Holmes 440 sling. The snow was falling and it was ten below zero. As he began winching a car out of a snow bank in the center divider of the expressway, he just knew there had to be an easier way to earn a living!
At the young age of 13, Mike had a knack for looking at something mechanical and figuring out a better design. In the home garage, with the power lawn mower in one corner and his bicycle in the other corner, he had made his first motorized bike in a matter of hours. Shortly thereafter, he made a go-cart and decided he needed yet a bigger challenge.
His dad’s 1964 Chevrolet Nova had a leaking water pump. To quote Mike, “My dad, the great guy that he is, does not possess any mechanical skills, much less the ability to open a radiator cap.” His dad had called his friend, Tom, to come over and fix the car. Tom said he could do the repairs but it would take a few hours to complete; of course, he would have to have lunch first! While his mom, dad, and Tom were eating lunch, Mike picked up his tools and began working on the car, By the time lunch was finished, so was the repair job!
The next day, Mike got a job pumping gas at the corner station. Within a year, the mechanic helped him build his first hot rod. Unfortunately, Mike didn’t have a driver’s license yet.
By the time he turned seventeen, Mike had had several hot rods, and to this day still have a set of keys to each of those cars – cars that one way or another were wrecked, rolled or impounded. Yes, impounded… by a tow truck… by a part-time “repo man".
At the ripe old age of 21, Mike managed Rossman’s ARCO service station. Joe Rossman, a master mechanic, was his teacher and mentor. Mike learned how to efficiently run a repair shop and towing operation, but he knew there was no way he’d survive turning wrenches on the side of the road in the cold.
When Mike met his wife, Kathy, he knew she was the one immediately! Soon after they married, they began making preparations to move west… a dream of Mike’s from long ago. There was only one big problem – no money! Kathy moved in with Mike’s brother and sister-in-law and Mike packed up his Camaro and a U- haul trailer with his toolbox, motorcycle and $2,000 in his pocket. He stayed with some friends in Los Angeles.
About a month later, Kathy joined him and they began their first company. Home Auto Repair (HAR). Mike went to customer’s homes to fix their cars. He was so bust they had to buy a van to carry all of the tools… they were jamming!!! They lived in a small apartment in Van Nuys and every dollar they made was put right back into the company, along with a lot of sweat and blood.
They then rented a house in Reseda and began bringing the cars in for repairs. Life was good. Mike even had to call his brother, Hal in to help him. Hal moved out from Pennsylvania and the business began to grow… most days there were nine or ten cars parked in front of the house.
The City of Los Angeles came knocking on the door and advised them that the business license was for a mobile repair service, not home auto repair. They had to change fast and move! Did I mention that Kathy was eight and a half months pregnant with their first child, Rachel, and they were just making ends meet?
Always the optimist, Mike didn’t let it get him down. He did what he always did…look ahead, not behind. They put everything on the line and moved the company to a brand new 4,000 square foot auto complex. They borrowed money from their older brother, Howard, to make the move. After only one week, Hal, Kathy and Mike were going gangbusters! They even added a full-time mechanic to the payroll.
And then Mike’s past caught up to him… TOWING! (You thought it was going to be something naughty, didn’t you?) Just like repossessing is in your blood, towing was in Mike’s blood.
He borrowed $50,000 from his dad; on the first of every month, he made payments to his parents (just as if it were a bank loan) including ten percent interest. The first truck he bought was a 19-foot rollback so that he could do “doubles.” By also doing transporting, he could make the company grow even quicker.
Within one year, they needed a wheel-lift truck. By this time, Home Auto Repair had established enough credit that GMAC would carry the paper. The word was out – Home Auto Repair was on the map to stay!
They formed a corporation, H.A.R. Transport and Towing, Inc. by using the letters for Home Auto Repair. Now with two tow units on the road, they felt on top of the world. Mike says, “It was an awesome sight for Hal and I to drive these big tow trucks down the road, side by side.” If only they had known it was just the beginning. Within weeks the Automobile Club of Southern California came knocking on the door. They had heard about H.A.R. and they like what they saw. (Mike had strategically painted the combo truck to match the colors used by the Auto Club.) Shortly after, H.A.R. was signed as an auxiliary contractor; they worked from 7AM to 7PM – never on Sundays. They added two additional trucks to the fleet. You may ask, “Where did they get the money this time?”
Once again, the “First National Savings and Loan of Mom and Dad” came through. Mike’s parents sold their house back east, moved to Los Angeles to retire, and invested their nest egg in H.A.R. It was a hard sell, but they had faith in Mike, Hal and Kathy.
Mike said, “Sometimes in life, you can make your own breaks, and sometimes you’re in the right place at the right time, like when AAA offered us a big contract. In some cases, AAA is not good for you, but they have been good to us. We needed still more trucks…we needed a self-loader, we needed to be fast and we needed to do damage-free tows.”
They went to the California Tow Truck Association Tow Show in Palm Springs and discussed business with Dynamic. It had everything they needed and yet the factory representative wouldn’t give them the time of day. He said to Mike, “You want to be a distributor? You have no money behind you. You’re maxed out on your credit. Sorry, can’t help you.”
Mike began to think they had grown as much as they could. Settle on what they have… pass on the big AAA contract and go home with his tail between his legs? I THINK NOT!
The next day, Mike went back to the rep to give him a piece of his mind. Instead, he found the factory rep stressing out over a broken demo truck. Mike looked at the problem from afar and watched the rep fall to his knees. No one could help.
Well, almost no one.Mike walked over to the man and made him a deal. “I’ll fix your truck; I’ll save your reputation, but now we’ll work together.” Within five seconds, the truck was fixed! Even Mike had surprised himself! On that subject Mike says, “Thank you, for giving me the opportunity to prove myself to you and the industry.”
H.A.R. Inc./West Valley Wrecker Sales opened its doors. With the first tow show and the first sale under their belt, the orders came in – slowly. The shows came and went, one after another, and building staff was increased to three. They soon felt like they were on a runaway train, and each truck they built they built as if it were their own. AAA even came to them and purchased ten new trucks and H.A.R. became known as the company to know and follow. For five years, H.A.R. was one of the largest tow truck distributors in the United States . They take pride in every tow unit they deliver and continue to fill orders with a handshake, even today.
The tow truck community knows that if it has to do with a tow truck, talk to Mike. Mike says, “Whatever the problem is, from maintenance on the truck to the wrecker body, even if it’s not our equipment, I’ll willingly get you info on it and help you find the equipment you need, whether you buy it from us or our competition. I’m here to help. If I don’t know the answer I’ll get it for you. Customer service is a driving principle of H.A.R.”
With a strong customer base, H.A.R. Inc. joined forces with Tow Industries to become another overnight success. They were the largest Vulcan distributor west of the Mississippi and projected sales that year made them the largest distributor in the United States.
After a few years, Recovery Solutions was started by Dave Craze, one of the original inventers of the self-loader. Recovery Solutions evolved the wheel lift to add all of the changes that customers were looking for. H.A.R. Inc became the largest Recovery Solutions distributor in the United States for over five years.
H.A.R. has a nitch in the industry and with the help of Miller Industries they have facilitated tow truck safety seminars, industry conventions, and they have contributed to many events and awards along with providing technical support.
In 2005, the CALR (California Association of Licensed Repossessors) board asked Mike how they could increase the vitality of the association. His suggestion was to have a rodeo – get the families involved, along with your clients, agents and officers – make it a yearly event. This generated a new interest in CALR, one of the largest independent associations that solely operate for the purpose of education and as an advocate for change in legislation in the California repossession industry. CALR has successfully had a hand full of Repo Rodeos in Sacramento.
In 2007, Mike’s oldest daughter Rachel developed an interested in working at H.A.R. Inc, contributing new ideas which pushed the company to its fullest potential. Rachel graduated from SUNY Potsdam, NY in 2006 with a BS in Business Administration and a minor in Music Business. She worked at Recovery Solutions in Virginia for about a year and has been with H.A.R. Inc ever since. Rachel shows great potential for not only leading H.A.R. Inc forward, but leading the industry forward. Rachel has implemented innovative management tools, cut overhead costs, increased work efficiency, increased profitability, lowered our turnover rate, and much more, including creating a family oriented work environment where people are happy to come to work.
In 2010, H.A.R. teamed up with Dynamic Manufacturing to become the largest Dynamic Distributor on the west coast. Dynamic had sculpted their bodies to be customer driven and the changes that customers wanted to be made on the body had successfully been made. H.A.R. strives to carry the best and leading product in the industry and what is the best product for our customers.
Well, that’s the history of H.A.R. Inc., from the beginning to now…and never ending. H.A.R. will continue to change with your suggestions. They will be there twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, and will strive to be the best in our industry. We have all grown and prospered, and we need to remember the people that brought it all together.