Pete Hines is retiring from his position as shop foreman of Hines Service Center after 38 years of greeting customers at the corner of Monroe and Harkrider Streets.
When Hines first bought the service station in 1976 there were two service bays, and it was a two-person team — Hines and his wife Joyce.
Nearly 40 years later, the downtown shop has grown to include five additional service bays, about a dozen employees and 6,500 people on its current customer list.
Last year, the service station did more than $1 million in business, but that wasn’t the first time. Hines Service Station has made more than $1 million at least three times over the past decade, Hines said.
When Hines was a kid, he was introduced to the car business by working in the garage with his uncle. He found his first mechanic job in 1963 at a service station in Little Rock.
In 1966, Hines joined the United States Air Force, and naturally worked for the service station at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kan. He then returned to Little Rock to work at Asher Avenue Conoco service station, which he eventually bought in 1970.
When Hines had his shop in Little Rock, he thought the shop was no place for a woman, he said, but when he bought his place in Conway, his wife Joyce ran the office and he ran the shop — a model of success for 35 years.
“She worked with me until I sold the business,” he said. In May, the couple will celebrate 48 years of marriage.
Next month, it will be three years since Hines sold his business to new owners Brian and Lori Armstrong.
As a mechanic all his life, Hines concentrated on repairs, he said, but the Armstrongs have made improvements to day-to-day operations and the overall facade with a guest waiting area, fresh paint and a new blue awning for the front.
Brian was a purchasing manager for 30 years in the goldmines of Northern Nevada before coming to Arkansas. The Armstrongs moved to Conway to be closer to Lori’s family. Lori used to work in corporate safety compliance.
“[Hines] built a reputation of honest auto repair, and we’re here to maintain that,” Brian said.
Although many customers may not know, Hines was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 35.
Since then he has had both shoulders replaced, both knees replaced, his left ankle reconstructed twice and his hips replaced three times each.
“I’ve worked through that over the years, but this last surgery has been hard on me,” he said. “It’s not a retirement because I want to,” Hines said. “It’s a retirement because I have to due to my hip.”
Joyce says it’s because of his age, but Hines said he doesn’t think age has much to with it, and at the age of 66, he plans to go back to work when he is able to fully recover.
Hines said it’s possible he could go back to work for Hines Service Center, but he wouldn’t mind being a service writer at a local dealership.
“I think I’m through working out in the shop, and being up on my feet all the time,” he said.
Hines said his goal was to retire with 40 years at Hines Service Center, but that didn’t work, and that’s okay. If his health had been better who knows how long he may have been there he says.
Mechanic Mirl Stephens who began working for Hines in 1990 has taken on the role of shop foreman since Hines’ last day on Jan. 31.
Stephens said Hines is not only a great boss, but also a good friend. The two often joke on the job and enjoy hunting together during hunting season.
“He’s an excellent mechanic who’s taught me a lot,” Stephens said, “but just having him around, and the day-to-day visiting will be missed the most.”
“There’s something about [Hines] or this building that makes people want to work here,” said Bill Barrett, mechanic of about 13 years, “and it must be [Hines].”
In 2008, Hines broke a hip and, at the same time, Conway experienced a boom in the natural gas industry with three of Hines’ best mechanics leaving the shop for a higher salary.
“I had three guys who had been with me a total of 40-something years between the three of them, leave within three months of each other to go work for these gas companies,” he said.
The business suffered for several years, until all three of Hines’ employees came back about a year later.
The most important thing to Hines has always been maintaining good relationships, from the customers and employees to other service centers and businesses.
He’s never considered another shop as competition.
“I was in business, just as they were,” Hines said. “We all had the same objective of fixing cars — fixing them right, and running a good honest business.”
When Hines first opened there was a service station on nearly every corner, but with self-service service stations quickly gaining popularity, many of the smaller stations went out of business.
By keeping up with changing technology, Hines managed to hang-on, focusing on mechanic work and repairs.
“It was real simple back then, but it’s not so simple now,” Hines said. “Everything on a car is computerized now. You have to keep up with that technology and have the equipment it takes to do all that.”
Hines was able to do this with the help of his sons.
Entrepreneurs themselves, Hines’ sons Del and Lance founded Conway’s first Internet service provider, Cyberback Internet, in the back of their father’s shop after college.
When companies like AT&T began providing their own Internet, the brothers sold the company to Computer Works.
Del is now a senior manager with Acxiom, and Lance now works in Russellville at Entergy’s Arkansas Nuclear One facility.
Being located off the interstate, most of Hines’ business is repeat business.
“That’s the way I wanted it,” he said, “I wanted to be able to build an individual relationship with our customers.”
In the City of Colleges, Hines has worked on three generations of students’ cars, he said.
Rob O’Connor, director of college communications for Hendrix College, said a longtime local business like Hines is such a great local resource for students.
Connor said although the college doesn’t officially refer students to Hines Service Center, students often reach out to someone they can trust for a referral — it could be a housekeeper, a maintenance staff member, a professor or academic advisor.
“It’s businesses like [Hines’], that have reputations in Conway, that tend to get the business,” he said.
“That’s the part of the business I’m really going to miss — the interaction with the customers,” Hines said.