Mike Pappa has been performing magic on damaged cars and trucks for decades in Michigan’s Great Southwest. So, when Al Poschke decided last fall to retire from his long-running P&R Service & Towing of Stevensville, he knew exactly who he needed to talk to in order to take the reins and keep his legacy running.
Together, Mike’s own long-running Lakeshore Body Shop and his recent acquisition of P&R Service make a dynamic one-stop-shop for virtually everything in, on, or around your personal or commercial vehicle.
Even Al himself is still on the team for a couple of months during the transition before he ventures to a new enterprise in Grand Rapids. More on that in a moment.
Mike Pappa bought Lakeshore Body Shop in 2000, but he worked there before that. In fact, he had worked there for 16 years from 1978 to 1994 before he left. He worked at another place with the option to buy, but then the deal popped up for Lakeshore Body Shop, and he bought it with his partner.
Mike also owns another body shop in Michigan City — Dan’s Body Shop — which has been around since 1945, but he owned it starting sometime after 1994.
The Pappa story is one filled with talent and determination. He started out as a body shop technician, and performed virtually all of the various work attendant to a body shop, but now is pretty much desk-bound, calling all the shots and processing much of the paperwork.
By purchasing P&R, he adds towing, which is ironic inasmuch as he says, “To be perfectly honest with you, when I first bought Lakeshore Body Shop, I wanted nothing to do with the towing business. I didn’t want my kids out on the road, and I didn’t need it.” However, when P&R became available, he talked to his sons, Danny & John, and agreed that it’s more for them, and it’s what Al wanted, as well.
Mike says, “We worked with Al for a long time, doing all of his alignments, and such, and had developed a great relationship with him, so we thought we’d take over his business. Al was sincerely worried about taking care of his guys and his customers. He didn’t want to leave people with nowhere to go. So, he thought we were a great fit, and I had young people on the team.” Mike admits that while that’s the case, “I’m not all that young, and I might hang in for a while yet, but I’m 62 so I’ll probably hang it up whenever these boys kick me out. When they say, ‘You’re more trouble than you’re worth, get out of here,” I guess that’ll mark the end for me.” That likely won’t be for a while yet, as they are a fine-tuned unit in every regard at Lakeshore Body Shop and P&R Service.
Al’s mechanical skills are not foreign to the Pappa family. Mike says, “We’ve been handling mechanical work for some ten years or more, largely through word of mouth. We have two mechanics. We acquired one from The Lakeshore Auto Clinic when they were getting ready to go, and we got George from LeValley. We can handle most mechanical work as a result.”
The shop, located at 1751 W. John Beers Road in Stevensville does alignments and both light and heavy mechanical repairs, and work on diesels. Additionally, they handle body work on any type of collision damage, including both heavy and light repairs. They can provide service for both foreign and American made models across the board. In essence, Mike says, “We can pretty much do everything, there’s not much that we don’t do. We handle personal vehicles, business vehicles like light trucks, and occasionally larger vehicles, but we’re restricted in space for larger work. Business examples include work for the Herald-Palladium and the U.S. Postal Service.”
Mike admits, “It’s been a good transition as we’ve earned some of that work through the deal for P&R.”
The combined team now features 14 employees, including four certified mechanics, and two younger men handling alignments and tires while learning other mechanical trades. One man handles much of the towing work acquired from P&R, and another P&R transfer works in the office. Mike says, “I’m staying in the body-end of the paperwork for now.”
From starters and alternators to transfer cases, rear axles and transmissions, the team is well-versed in servicing vehicles of all types. Mike says, “P&R always said if there’s work to be done on an automobile, we can largely do it. Between Danny, George and Al, it’s a pretty deadly combination that can provide that same level of confidence for you, day in and day out.”
The combined businesses are housed in 15,000 square feet under roof along John Beers Road, with four regular hydraulic hoists and two alignment hoists in the house. Additionally, there are two spray booths in the body shop. The majority of the auto body work is done at the back of the house with mechanical repairs taking place up front.
Mike Pappa says, “My philosophy on taking care of the customer is I work to treat everybody in the manner in which I want to be treated wherever I go. We try to give the best service possible, a little extra for the money, and to be fair and honest. I want to treat everybody like I want to be treated.”
For those searching for a team to conduct repairs following a crash, Mike reminds you that, “With some insurance companies they want you to get several quotes for repairs, while some only require one to be submitted, but it is always the customer’s choice where they want to go whether it’s the highest or the lowest quote for the work. Then the insurance will work with our team to handle it. The law says you can choose your facility for repairs, and it doesn’t have to be the lowest quote, it just has to be reasonable.”
The mild winter has kept things a bit slower than usual, but Mike admits, “The first snow always tends to bury us quickly with work as people learn how to acclimate to the returning weather, but winter can always turn wicked when you least expect it, and we’re always ready.” On another front he tells us, “Deer hits have been happening year round anymore, unlike earlier years when it was confined to activity in the fall. There are so many deer out there, and many times when you least expect it, they hit you.”
Regarding his sons, Mike says, “Danny & John grew up in this world, and they’ve never done anything else so this is their future. Danny is really good mechanically, and John did most of the painting, but is now helping out with the towing and whatever dad isn’t doing.”
I asked Mike about some of the more memorable wreckage he’s seen, to which he says, “Sometimes you’ll get a vehicle that has been hit so hard and yet you realize that people actually walked away from the wreckage and you wonder how that was even possible. Sometimes airbags don’t go off, and you wonder why. Some of what we see is absolutely amazing.”
You’ll find the crew in the house daily from 8 to 5 Monday through Friday, and occasionally a little later if somebody needs to pick up a vehicle after hours, and of course towing operations are 24/7.
The Al Poschke story is one of great satisfaction as well. He says, “Basically, I started back when I was 20 years old, back at Red Arrow & Glenlord at the 66 Gas Station. I had a partner with me at the time, and from there we had big dreams – not much money – but, big dreams so we went out and thought we were going to conquer the world and expanded into four locations at the time. From there we decided that we’d gotten big enough, and my partner decided that he was going to retire and left it all on my shoulders to go ahead and continue on.”
Al goes on, “That’s basically what I did. I had to re-group, sold some things, and moved on. I got things down to two locations, the one in Stevensville – the Shell Gas Station – and from there we just kept it steady for the last 20 some years after that.”
All good things come to a turning point, and Al says, “I turned 63 this year and I decided last year that I was going to have to look for an alternative, but I just did not want to lock the door, turn off the lights, and tell my customers and my employees thanks for 40 years but, goodbye. Fortunately, through the grace of God, the Pappa family came along with an interest in taking over our business. They’ve taken over the business, they’re taking care of our customers and they took care of most of my employees, so it was the absolute dream that I was looking for.”
As for the future, Al says, “I believe that the family can take and push it down the road another 30 or 40 years and at that point hopefully there’ll be somebody in their future that can do the same. I’m planning on sticking around to help the folks out for a few months and then I’ll move on to something different, but it’s a good fit — it really is — and I think everybody in the community should come down and give these folks a try, because as I always tell my older customers who come in to see me, ‘it’s probably not gonna be the old white-haired man, but it’s still gonna be a very good place to come,’ and they’re very honest and I think they’re going to do a great job.”
For Al’s next venture, he says, “People say I’m crazy, when I tell people I’m going to retire so that I can only work about 40 or 50 hours a week, but I have some plans to go into the Grand Rapids area and help my son-in-law with his new business, and I’ll spend some time up there and still work day to day, because I want to stay active and stay around younger people because I think it keeps everybody, even us older people, happy if we’re working with younger people.” His son-in-law purchased a business called Proper Soda — a soda company — and he’s canning his own products and reaching out for other contracts to do things for other companies and it has taken off quite well. Al will be a part of that. I asked, “Should we keep our eyes peeled for a P&R Rootbeer some day?” To which Al replies, “It would probably sell pretty well down here. At any rate I do have plans to stay active for a while and see how that goes.” Al is also still a part-owner of P & R Body Shop, on Red Arrow Highway near Lakeshore Roller World. P & R Body Shop remains open, and is owned & managed by Dennis & Karen Ott.
Danny Pappa says, “I’ve always enjoyed the mechanical end of our operations. Through high school I took a lot of shop classes and such at Lakeshore High, and just felt it was a better fit for me personally, and that’s when we started doing the mechanical work at Lakeshore Body Shop. When we purchased P&R Service, that role has advanced for us.” Danny is 32, having graduated from Lakeshore in 2006, and has been on the job ever since. Regarding his dad and Al Poschke, Danny says, “We have big shoes to fill, but we’ll be the heir apparent here. We’ve got a pretty good crew and everybody’s pretty easy going. I really enjoy diagnosing the problems and making sure everybody gets back on the road safely when our work is done.”
Danny’s older brother John, who will turn 39 this year says, “I’ve been here a long time. We came here in 2000, and I’ve been in and out ever since. I also have worked at the Michigan City shop, where I painted until a year ago or so.” John has been handling some of the office work in Stevensville of late and suggests, “My role is whatever he needs done. I handle estimates on the body work, and I help with the towing work now, and anything they need back in the shop that I can handle for them. I just like to stay busy more than anything, don’t really have a favorite part of the job as such.”
John says, “I’m looking forward to see what the future brings us, with everything we’re handling now. When Al approached us I thought it was a great idea, especially with us being younger and we all share the same philosophy of taking care of the customer the best way possible. It’s been a great change, and the transition has been smooth, almost like an upgrade to the product mix we bring to the market.” He concludes, “The nice thing is we carry on that tradition of quality customer service for their mechanical needs, but now if they need any body repair work, we’re all under the same roof with their favorite mechanic and we’re all here in a one-stop shop, essentially. I think it’s going to be a good thing for everybody around here.” You can rest assured that will certainly be the goal every single day.
You can reach Lakeshore Body Shop at 269-429-1533 and P&R Service & Towing at 269-429-3551 or 800-378-5188.