Third Coast Guitar Repair strives to be best in customer service, coverage

Local tune up

08/29/2012 10:00 PM

Contributing Reporter

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Technician Tom Gerlach replaces the saddle and bridge and restrung this guitar at Third Coast Guitar Service, Inc., in Chicago on Aug. 27.
Photos by DAVID PIERINI/Staff Photographer

Technition Robert Daniel does some paint touch-up on a guitar body at Third Coast Guitar Service, Inc.

When Chicago musician Chris Eudy was fired from his day job in 1996, his first impulse was to look for more of the same. But his wife encouraged him to look for something music-related. He decided to try his luck at Bob’s Guitar Service, a Ukrainian Village-based guitar repair shop.

“I called [owner] Bob Egan,” recalled Eudy. “Asking for a job. And I kept calling. I bothered him very badly.”

His persistence ultimately paid off. Eudy became Egan’s apprentice. Less than a year later, Eudy became the new owner.

Since then, the shop has expanded significantly. Under Eudy’s leadership, it moved to West Loop, added more employees and gained a new name — Third Coast Guitar Repair. Even as the economy struggles to recover, it continues to grow as a business, all while taking care of its employees and maintaining the standards of customer service that made it successful in the first place.

Like Eudy, founder Bob Egan was a musician. In the summer of 1997, he decided to leave Chicago and focus on his music career. Not wanting to see the shop closed, he sold it to Eudy.

While Egan ran the business, it didn’t have what Eudy called a “functional shop.” In other words, potential customers couldn’t just walk on and schedule repairs — they had to make an appointment ahead of time.

Once he became the owner, Eudy set out to change that.

“First thing we did,” he recalled. “I had a friend of cut out the front door. We established regular hours. Over time, it really helped us grow.”

Eudy also credits his success to good customer service.

“Oftentimes,” he said, “guys who fix guitars tend to be very opinionated, and that can be off-putting. We try not to approach our customers like that. We try to treat our customers who we want to be treated. We don’t inject our opinion on what they want to do with their equipment.”

That is not to say Eudy and his employees never express their opinions at all. Eudy recalled an incident when a customer wanted to refurbish a vintage guitar, which would significantly reduce its value.

“We may try to talk people out of it,” Eudy reflected, “But we don’t want to make judgment. In the end of the day, it’s their instrument — not ours.”

Within a few years, the shop grew to the point where the original location wasn’t enough. In 2001, Eudy moved the business to an industrial building in West Loop, at 159 N. Racine Avenue.

“The location is fantastic,” he said. “It’s centrally located, which is good, because we do business in Chicago and the suburbs. The space was fantastic. It gave us room to grow and the price was just right.”

As for the new name, Eudy explained that he wanted to come up with something that was evoked Chicago without calling it a “Chicago-something.”

The shop space is broken up into several stations, each responsible for handling a different aspect of guitar repair. There are separate stations for fixing speakers, amplifiers and other guitar-related equipment.

On an average weekday, the stations are fairly busy. When Eudy joined the shop, the store had three other employees. Today, the shop has 15 employees, two of whom have been with the company for as long as Eudy.

Sean McGarry, a manager at Third Coast Guitar Repair, told Chicago Journal that all employees got into guitar repair through their love of music.

“I was a musician,” he said. “I played the guitar for a long time. Had to figure out how to make rent. I worked at a bar for a while, but I got tired of it, so I decided to apply here. It’s a pretty typical story for all of us.”

Eudy is quite willing to help his employees pursue their art. The walls are plastered with event fliers, and the shop has a practice room reserved for staff members.

But perhaps most importantly, Third Coast Guitar Repair offers health insurance and retirement benefits — a rarity in the industry.

“It’s part of my commitment to the guys who work for me,” said Eudy. “So long as we can afford it, we’ll continue to provide it.”

The recession hasn’t affected Third Coast Guitar Repair as much as many other area businesses. Eudy explained that, when economic times are good, customers spend money to spruce up the instruments. When economy is lagging, they spend money to keep their instruments working. Either way, the shop makes profit.

Still, the shop isn’t a stranger to setbacks.

“Five years ago, we had a bit of a recession of our own,” said McGarry. “But we broadened our spectrum, picked up some service work, tightened our belts a bit, and things improved.”

In fact, the recent years have actually seen increased profits.

“2009 was a flat year,” said Eudy, “but over the last two years, we have tons of growth.”

The business has been good enough to allow Third Coast Guitar Repair to open several satellite locations in Lincoln Park and throughout the suburbs. McGarry mentioned that he and Eudy occasionally discussed moving to a new, larger location.

But finding more space in the West Loop isn’t easy. Since the shop moved to the neighborhood, property values went up significantly. While their current rent remains affordable, McGarry said that they’d have trouble finding a deal like that elsewhere in West Loop.

For the time being, Eudy intends to stay put.

“We like staying in the West Loop,” he said. “The businesses are thriving, and it’s becoming a lot more residential. The City Winery opened right next to us, which has been good. We liked watching West Loop grow.”

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