Alexandra Alexopoulos sat, smiling, behind her makeshift desk – a fold-out workbench covered in papers, a laptop and a few half-full water bottles – in her new office, as it was built around her bit by bit. Accompanied by the occasional screech of a drill or echo of a distant hammer strike, she went over the different facets of the redevelopment of her family’s business, Randolph Automotive, in detail.
“I knew what I wanted this to look like,” she said of the project, currently in the meat of its progress. “We don’t want to look like anybody else. We want you to come here and feel like you’re at home.”
Breaking the mold is not cheap in terms of money or time. Weighing in at $2.5 million and completed in two phases, the redevelopment has been in various stages of planning for over 10 years and in progress for three. The first phase involved the construction of the new six-bay, 3,740-square-foot garage and attached office/customer reception building (complete with new equipment and digital record systems), which was specifically done before the demolition of the old garage in order to avoid putting the team of highly skilled mechanics, who make up the most profitable arm of the business, out of work. With that phase wrapped up, the next phase is a new gas station and convenience store, set to be completed by Halloween of this year.
“It’s a little scary to think about, but to me, the thrill of something new, of creating it – that’s just awesome,” Alexandra said. “It’s super exciting when you see progress.”
“I’m quite pleased with it,” her husband Bill, a bit dusty but looking content, said of their gradually materializing brainchild. “To actually see it come to fruition is pretty exciting.”
“It’s gonna be a nice site,” he added, leaning by a small window, out of which could be seen the embryonic second phase of their project, featuring huge, partially buried green tanks and the early makings of the soon-to-be convenience store.
Three Generations of Leadership Development
In order to even consider an undertaking on the scale of the Randolph Automotive redevelopment, a business needs established financial success, as well as driven leaders – two elements this particular family business has never lacked, according to Alexandra.
After cutting his teeth as an automotive technician working on buses and big rigs in his native Athens, Greece, Bill’s father, Chris Alexopoulos, set his sights on the U.S., home to a few uncles and aunts, and a host of opportunities for career and personal fulfillment. He migrated to the Boston area in 1955; shortly after, his talents were recognized by local businessman Eli Kravitz, who asked him to partner up to run a service station in Randolph. This set in motion a family enterprise that would run through three generations and culminate in the multimillion-dollar investment currently buzzing and clanking away at 1245 North Main Street.
But there’s more to this family business’ success than a well-timed partnership and skill under the hood. Alexandra and Bill explained that the ethics of hard work, honesty and the drive to succeed are, and always have been, at the core of the Alexopoulos family’s endeavors.
“Nobody is going to hand you success – too many people expect that these days,” Alexandra said. “You have to go out and get it. We’re always trying to be the best that we can be. Mediocre is not something we’re interested in.”
In a family business especially, dedication and a finely tuned team dynamic is critical not only to keep customers walking in, but to prevent family members from storming out. Thus, Alexandra said, it is important to let each Alexopoulos define their own role, on their own terms.
“We believe in playing to everybody’s strengths and weaknesses,” she said. “That’s how you’re going to be most successful. A family equals a team. And we have to work well together in order for everybody to prosper.”
The Alexopoulos’ team dynamic has been refined so masterfully over the decades, however, that it seems to have adopted an entire town. The fact is, the family has done well for itself by doing well for its community.
“We like to really get to know our customers on a regular basis,” Alexandra said, “on a personal level.”
“You’re not a number in our business,” Bill agreed. “You’re an actual person.”
Alexandra described local families with generations of regular customers, having grown up with the shop over the decades. Some have even been coming to the shop since it was opened half a century ago. Mrs. Adler, for example, or Mr. Washburn – names that mean little to an outsider, but everything to the Randolph Automotive family.
“We really pride ourselves on quality work and relationships,” she said, noting the sour reputation that businesspeople, especially in the automotive industries, often have with the general public. “People think that you’re here to take their money. But that’s not true. We’re not like that.”
She added that the “hit-and-run” businesses seeking maximum profits by any means necessary don’t last in a close-knit community for 53 years, as this one has.
“We live around the corner,” she said. “We’re not going to ruin the community that we have to live in every day. That’s ridiculous.”
Through involvement and dedication to the community that surrounds and supports their business, the family – known for the business as well its sponsorship of youth programs and role in local government – is admired and respected. Alexandra compared a good family business’ role in its community to something like a mother.
“If you don’t know what your kids’ needs are, how can you be the perfect mother? Each child is different – you have to figure out what’s going to help them the best,” she said, and customers are the same. “It’s a lot of listening, a lot of understanding and being respectful toward one another.”
The Alexopoulos family did just that – listened to, understood and respected what their community wanted. Its response is written into the new state-of-the-art garage, the half-buried gas tanks and the skeletal convenience store growing taller every day. With a few more months of evolution, the dusty worksite will become a home away from home for the hungry, thirsty and automotively needy of its community, for years to come.
Joe Kourieh is an associate editor for The Warren Group, publisher of Mass. Family Business. This article first appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of Massachusetts Family Business, the magazine of the Massachusetts Family Business Association.