Turbo Tim’s Anything Automotive in the Twin Cities has been built on a series of ‘yeses’: yes to art events, stand-up comedy shows, dance parties, silent auctions, a garden to share produce with customers, puppet shows with live music, kids’ biking gatherings and even housing a cast of resident shop cats.
Now icons of the auto repair business, the cats can be spotted at two of the business’ locations, dutifully carrying out their esteemed titles, which include Chief Security Officer, Executive Biscuit Maker and Director of Operations.
But as much as the cats run the shops today, human owner Tim Suggs has spent years building and carrying out a vision of community building.
In 2006, Suggs opened up the first Turbo Tim’s in Minneapolis, where the business used to look a little different than it does now.
“When you first start a shop, you have to be like every other shop just to fit in and become something,” Suggs said.
It was during this time that he met his future wife and eventual business partner, Rachel Grewell. Then a graduate student, she was determined to save every dime that she could for her first ever beater car, a Toyota Corolla.
On summers off from her research with community gardens in the Twin Cities area, Grewell began helping Suggs out with the business. As the two grew closer, the business also grew, and Suggs’ personality began to rub off onto how the shop was beginning to shape its identity.
And then came the yeses.
“We had friends in the neighborhood who were artists,” Grewell said. “And they said, ‘Hey Tim, can we use the shop to showcase our work for this event?’ And he was like, ‘Yes!’ You know, he just kind of said yes to everything. And I just thought that was so cool that we’ve got this space and had — at that point, not a lot of resources, but some — resources to put towards it.”
Since then, they’ve opened two more locations across the Twin Cities, carrying a business philosophy based on five core values: community, care, trust, fun and innovation. By embodying these values, Turbo Tim’s is seeking to become a kind of community center with events, workshops, gatherings — a place where the surrounding neighborhood residents can feel comfortable and welcome.
“There’s so many ways to just do it better, be more transparent, be more relationship based,” Suggs said.
It’s a vision that both Suggs and Grewell have been building up for their business, especially because car repairs are often an unexpected expense; Turbo Tim’s is hoping to dispel feelings of stress and tension often associated with visits to the mechanic, and replace them with positive interactions — and, of course, cats.
“You don’t really expect cats in this environment. And I think it disarms people and calms them down a little bit,” Grewell said. “So many people come in and they show you pictures of their cat and ask for the cats’ names, and they want to hear about our cats. And it’s a way for people to relate beyond the car repair that I think feels good. It gives people something to talk about if they don’t feel comfortable talking about their cars.”
To make customers feel welcome, Turbo Tim’s also strives to be an active part of the community through humanitarian work. From company team highway cleanups to collaborations with the YWCA’s Girls Inc. to promote young girls’ involvement in the STEM field, community involvement is a value that the entire Turbo Tim’s team — some of whom also hold independent volunteer positions outside of the shop — echoes.
As part of this approach, Turbo Tim’s is a longtime partner of the Lift Garage, a non-profit organization targeting affordable repair services for those experiencing poverty or homelessness in the Twin Cities. The partnership began between Suggs and Cathy Heying, the Lift’s executive director and founder. Heying, a social worker by training, noticed the lack of attention to a make-or-break resource like access to personal transportation and took matters into her own hands.
“We have an okay transit system, but it is far from comprehensive and we are pretty car dependent,” Heying said. “Even basic needs get taken care of and there are lots of social services that address hunger and housing and health care, but nobody is really thinking about how [transportation] plays into the economic system in terms of people being successful or not.”
The partnership started largely as an informal way for Heying to glean advice from Suggs about running a shop. As the organization grew, however, the partnership became more official, with Suggs joining the organization’s board of directors.
According to Heying, it’s crucial to build more open, communicative relationships between customers who visit their garage, and it’s a vision that both Heying and Suggs have for the auto industry.
“We spent a lot of time with our customers trying to help build that trust,” Heying said. “When you live in poverty, that kind of thing happens to you all the time — you get taken advantage of because you don’t have the resources. So that’s an important piece of the work that we do, that kind of education.”
But Turbo Tim’s is not only informed by hopes to serve as a resource for automotive services, but also to create a mutual sense of belonging between the shop and the community members who stop by.
In early July 2023, Grewell and Suggs opened a third location in West Saint Paul. They settled down in an existing auto shop called Cherokee Service, which had served its community for nearly 70 years.
For this reason, adjusting their digital and online services to accommodate a clientele of an older generation was a new challenge — one they’re continuing to figure out as they build a relationship with the neighborhood.
“As we’ve grown to new locations, it’s been really important, at least to me, that [in] each location that we move into, we engage with the communities surrounding it,” Grewell said. “The way that we’ve done that is showing up to community events where we can be visible, hopefully beyond just car repair, where we are trying to be a resource.”
Looking forward to Turbo Tim’s future, Suggs anticipates many more yeses to come. He says it’s this business approach that will continue fostering relationships like these.
“I get bored easily, so we gotta keep doing big stuff and having fun ideas,” Suggs said. “I don’t think we would be where we are today if we didn’t keep thinking outside the box and doing random stuff. I never would have thought we could do as many community events as we do, and help as many people and work with as many people as we do.”
This story was updated on Oct. 24, 2023 to correct the name of the city West St. Paul.