Mantua – Although he hates to be in the limelight, Dean Stebbins Sr. of Mantua, will be celebrating a pretty momentous event this week. That’s because the company he helped found, F&S Automotive, is celebrating a phenomenal 50 years in business. Although he is more comfortable celebrating the success of his family of employees, he shared how his company got its start. Stebbins is a proud Crestwood graduate from 1965. With his interest in towing and recovery, it wasn’t much of a surprise when, just two years later in 1967 he and Robert Fall founded a partnership called F & S Automotive. Back at that time, however, Dean’s mother, Hazel, was worried that her young son wouldn’t be able to pay the $55,000 he spent on that first truck.
No doubt, His mother is proud, since fifty years later F & S Automotive is still going strong. Over the years, that initial investment of one truck has helped F & S grow exponentially, to a fleet of a dozen trucks and a dedicated staff of eight includes drivers and technicians and three office personnel. He values that his mother raised him to work hard and set goals for the future, which helped fuel his future success. In a nod to her inspiration, each F & S truck is lettered with the sentiment, ‘In honor of Hazel Stebbins’ as a reminder of where he came from.
The fledgling business was originally located in the center of Mantua Village. They began operations by rigging that first truck with homemade booms to create their own unique tow truck. After creating that first wrecker, their love for the business inspired them to keep moving forward. Moving to their current location provided more visibility and the opportunity to expand their business. The expansion includes two buildings, which contain office space, bay areas, several lifts, and a parking area for a fleet of trucks. Stebbins became owner/operator of the venture in 1993.
“Everyone has opportunities,” Stebbins explained, “Whether you take advantage of them is up to you.” He attributes his success in following his dreams to the support of family and friends. “In striving to better yourself, you have a responsibility to help others along. You want to help them look beyond what they have right now, to look for the next step,” he explained.
He’s looking forward to the next steps for F & S in the coming years, as well. His grandson joined the team recently, although he’s been involved at F & S since he was four years old. Like his grandfather, he’s learning from the ground up. “When he became eligible to operate the big trucks at the age of 23, you’d think I gave him a million dollars,” Stebbins beamed. He also proudly noted that his granddaughter has joined F & S, working in the business office, helping the family business continue.
Today, F & S serves all manner of needs, from light duty towing and recovery for automobiles and light trucks, rollback for 4-wheel drive cars and trucks, to medium duty for motor homes and delivery trucks, and heavy wreckers for tractor-trailers. If your vehicle requires towing or recovery, the folks at F & S can make it happen for you. Their mantra for towing services is, ‘If you go there, we go there.’
In addition, they also operate a full-service garage to help repair and maintain automobiles as well as light and heavy-duty trucks. The qualified staff of technicians is ASE certified and offer the latest technology and tools to diagnose and repair more than simply today’s cars and trucks. The team have serviced vehicles from Portage and Geauga County Sheriffs’ Departments, State Highway Patrol, as well as local Police and Fire Departments, including Mantua, Hiram, Garrettsville, and Aurora. They also service vintage cars from the 1920s and 30s.
Although Stebbins tends to shy away from the limelight, he leads his family of employees by example. Noted by those who know him as being honest, fair and professional in his dealings, Stebbins and F & S are highly esteemed for their efforts in the industry. Stebbins’ common-sense practices and professionalism are evident, as quoted from a leading towing and recovery industry publication. “Sitting in his office, the guy who owns the truck has no idea what his truck was like before, during, and after the situation. That’s why we take photos before, during, and after the recovery. Once he sees the photos, he understands the charges; that’s how we can justify our figures.”
One of the biggest challenges he’s noted, in recollecting on 50 years of business is advances in technology. For today’s repairs, everything is computerized; but the recovery side of the business has become more sophisticated, as well. The rules have changed with recovery certifications, drug testing, and ODOT programs like QuickClear, which helps local and state law enforcement, Fire, EMS, and towing and recovery services work together to safely and efficiently clear traffic incidents from roadways.
“People don’t realize how dangerous this industry can be,” Stebbins implored. “Every six days, a tow operator is killed in the U.S.” That’s why F & S is one of the towing and recovery companies who participate in the program, which includes specialized training and provides tools and guidelines to help keep motorists, first responders, and their operators safe. “Not a lot of tow companies go to that extreme”, he concluded.
But F & S doesn’t just go above and beyond what is expected in the towing and recovery part of the business, they embrace this practice in the repair side of things, as well. After having repairs done, customers are often shocked to receive a follow up call checking on their vehicle and the service they received. Longtime employee Joann Vance shared, “I’m continually amazed at the thank yous we receive for our follow up calls. It’s that personal touch that sets F & S apart.”
That philosophy is carried out through the thriving organization. For example, one technician recently attended a local event that gave children the opportunity to get up close and personal with a vehicle from the F & S fleet. He answered questions and talked with a slew of truck aficionados, representing F & S as he gave of his time to the local community. “We’re here as a family,” Stebbins explained, “doing what we can do to help one another. I’m the leader, but without my people behind me, I couldn’t do it.”
“I have known Dean for many years and have the utmost respect for him and how he runs his business,” shared Mantua Village Mayor Linda Clark. “He is always willing to give a helping hand for those in need,” she continued. “He has been an asset to our community,” the mayor added.
Case in point, two years ago, F & S coordinated with the Mantua-Shalersville Fire Department to house some of their equipment and staff during a bridge replacement project that effectively split the fire district in half. “In addition, both the police and fire departments as well as the service Department have used F & S services countless times in emergency situations.
Village Police Chief Harry Buchert concurred, sharing, “Dean has helped us a tremendous amount. He’s an asset to the Village, and to our community, “ he added. “Dean’s business has a reputation, both locally and state wide, for the excellent services he provides,” Mayor Clark continued. “With his well-maintained equipment and professional crew, Dean has built his business to be one of the best,” she beamed. “In our opinion he is the best of the best in towing and recovery services.” She continued, “If the Mantua/Shalersville area had a Hall of Fame, Dean would be a full-fledge charter member.“
The Mayor and Village Council will be presenting Stebbins with a Proclamation to commemorate fifty years of service to the community on August 19th, when the company will host an appreciation event for customers and business associates.