By Danielle Curtis / The Nashua Telegraph
July 15, 2012
Flipping through an old photo album filled with pictures of restored cars, Bob Ryan can tell the story behind each one.
Even decades later, he remembers which customers brought which vehicles into his shop and the struggles they may have faced to restore them.
Ryan has worked in and owned numerous body shops in the Nashua area since the 1970s, and his latest – and most treasured – business venture, RMR Restorations on Route 130 in Hollis, will reach its 20th anniversary this summer. The company is run by Ryan and his daughter, Christine Ryan, and 11 employees.
While well-trained employees, a passion for the old and unique and years of experience in restoration certainly play a part in the Ryans’s success in business, Bob Ryan said it’s the relationships the family makes with customers that really matters.
Talk with Ryan and his dedication to his customers is clear. Not only does he seem to remember nearly every car he has ever worked on in his long history with mechanics and restoration, he talks about the customer who owned that car like they’re still good friends. In many cases, they are.
Ryan has a lot to remember. He first worked at various auto shops in Nashua as a mechanic. As he grew tired of mechanics, he said, he became more interested in restoration.
In 1978, he opened Main Street Autobody with a friend, and while the focus of that shop was collision repair, he tried to do as much restoration work as he could. Today, Ryan jokes that many of the cars he restores were new back when he opened his first shop.
In 1989, Main Street Autobody went out of business, and Ryan started repairing and restoring old cars out of his Amherst garage. By 1992, he had officially formed RMR Restorations out of his home, and about 10 years ago, he moved the business to Hollis, into two buildings along Route 130 directly behind the one the company currently houses.
Business was good during those years, Ryan said, but was based primarily on word of mouth, since the company’s location couldn’t be easily viewed from the road.
About three and a half years ago, RMR changed that, however, moving to the building on the edge of the highway, and Ryan said that move has done a lot for the business.
“Location really is everything,” he said.
Today, the shop is bustling with activity, with antique cars and sometimes even older machines and tools filling every inch of available space.
One room is used to create and shape metal to form restored bodies of cars. Employee Kyle Bannon was working in that room earlier this month, working on a 1937 Studebaker that was being restored and modified with a Dodge Viper engine.
Bannon said the company’s dedication to giving workers the best of the best for tools is part of what makes the company successful.
In another area, a technician was working on the oldest car currently in the shop: a 1929 Studebaker.
RMR staff members have worked on even older cars, Ryan said, including a 1912 Maxwell a few years back and a Model T years ago that was made during the early 1900s.
‘It’s the customers’
And while Ryan said he loves his line of work, he said it’s the people he meets that really make his days in the shop so meaningful.
“It’s the customers, that’s what makes the business,” he said. “I’ve met so many just nice people.”
Customers are encouraged to be fully involved in restoration projects, which can take more than a year, Ryan said, and many stop in often to check on the progress.
Two such customers are Joan and Butch Blanchard, of Townsend, Mass., who brought Joan’s 1931 Chevy into the shop in March 2011. She bought the car in 1959 with a $125 insurance payout and said it started making memories before she even drove it.
Joan got to know Butch when he helped her brother bring the car from Derry, where it was purchased, to her hometown.
“I still have the car and I still have him,” she joked recently on a trip to visit RMR staff.
Blanchard said she just wants the car to be safe so the couple can bring their grandchildren out for ice cream.
“It’s not really about the money,” she said. “It’s about getting the car back, getting the memories back and creating new memories while we can.”
The restoration on her car is almost complete, but Blanchard said she and her husband have become so close with the staff at the shop, they plan to come back to visit even after their car is complete.
“They’re like family, all of them,” she said, adding that employees even sent her flowers when her sister died. “That’s what families do.”
And RMR staff clearly feel the same way about the Blanchards. Ryan said the employee who has done the bulk of the work on the couple’s car was set to retire in June, but that after a few weeks of vacation, he plans to return to finish the project.
This kind of personal service and dedication to customers are typical for the shop, Christine Ryan said.
“My father has a big heart,” she said recently. “That’s what it’s all about.”
But her father said that while he wants customer input in all his projects, he isn’t afraid to be straight with clients, either.
If the work they want done is unrealistic or extremely costly – restoration projects can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars – Ryan said he’ll let them know.
He recalled an instance a few years back when the shop restored an old car for a local man who wanted to give it to his girlfriend.
“I asked him, ‘Do you like Porsches?’ ” Ryan said, laughing. “Then buy yourself a Porsche; it will cost you less.”
Still, Ryan said he knows that for most of his customers, the restorations are less about the money and more about the sentimental value behind the vehicles. It was that way for the man he recalled recently, who in the end didn’t take his advice to buy a Porsche.
And it’s that way for Ryan, too.
As he flipped through his photo album recently, chronicling the early years of his restoration work, he joked about the people he met along the way, smiled at the photos of Christine as a child sitting in his first shop and shared memories with his daughter.
“It’s not just about the car, it’s about the story behind it,” he said.