A&J’s Automotive fits in with other south-side businesses

The south Wichita neighborhood around 47th and Seneca won’t find many boosters bigger than the owners of A&J’s Automotive.

They have fliers for a nearby restaurant, Big B’s Beef, on their counter, and happily send people needing tires across the street to Myer’s Tires rather than go into that line of business themselves.

“I feel it’s so important to support small businesses,” said Julie Suchan, who opened A&J’s with her husband, Andy Howard, in November. “Especially right now. You gotta be kind of crazy.”

In return, Suchan said, the couple has been welcomed into the area by residents and fellow business owners. One even bought them lunch.

“It’s been great. Everyone’s really happy that someone is back in here,” Suchan said.

A&J’s is the third auto shop in as many years to occupy the building, but Suchan said that’s not as discouraging as it sounds. The first, After Hours Auto Repair, did so well it moved to a bigger building on Pawnee. Suchan and Howard say they’ve heard good things about the work done by the next occupant as well.

“It’s tough for some good auto techs to become good businessmen,” Howard said.

Howard has been around business and machinery his whole life. His father was a Massey Ferguson tractor dealer in Fredonia.

He earned a degree in automotive management from Pittsburg State, then spent 15 years working as a business consultant for General Motors dealerships. He owned a lease-to-own auto dealership in Wichita, then spent the last couple of years working as a mechanic in another shop. He’s certified as a master technician by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence.

Howard said some of his customers have followed him from that job, which has helped.

Suchan said she can’t tell you how many times her husband has helped people whose cars broke down in the area without getting paid for it. Those grateful people often turn into referrals for future business, Howard said.

On Wednesday, Howard was putting an air hose on a BMW and fixing a window on a 1980s-era sports car that had been in a collision. A stream of vendors stopped by the office, decorated mainly with crayon drawings by the youngest of the couple’s eight children.

Suchan, who had been working as a freelance writer, is the office manager. She claims to know nothing about cars but jokes that the degree in psychology she earned from Friends University sometimes comes in handy with some customers and their ailing cars. “You often get more of the story than you want to know,” she said.