Ladysmith’s family owned and operated collision repair centre, Little Valley Restorations is celebrating 40 years in business.
John and Jackie Neil purchased the land that Little Valley sits on with the intent to live on the property. It was a perfect location: Jackie had space for her horses, and John had space for a garage to paint motorcycles and hot-rods. The six acre property was also an ideal place to raise their young children, Travis, Sheena and Janna.
In the beginning, the family lived in a cottage on the property, and John worked out of a small two bay garage doing hobby work. Eventually, he was getting more work than he could keep up with, so John quit his job and turned his hobby into a business.
“I came home and told Jackie I quit my job. She almost killed me,” John said. “With a $30,000 loan from the bank I built the first part of the shop, and started working on all these cars. Then I needed some help, so I hired a young guy named Andrew, who’s still here after 40 years.”
The business progressed from there. Staff went from eating lunch in the family house – with lunches lovingly made by Jackie – to building a small office building with a lunch room in it.
“It evolved over the years, we had a couple more children, and the business expanded. It just kept growing and growing, now we have 14 employees total.”
As the shop got bigger, the Neils made other improvements to the property. John built Jackie a barn, and the couple built a log cabin at the back of the property where they now live. They also have a small hobby farm on the back of the property where they’ve raised all sorts of animals over the years.
Sheena said that growing up around Little Valley was a lot of fun.
“We were always outside playing, and the guys always treated us great. As we got older I started cleaning the office for some extra money on Fridays,” Sheena said.
Travis also got into the entrepreneurial spirit. He used to sell chips, chocolate bars, and pop to the staff in the lunch room when he was young.
“We’d go to Costco to get a flat of chocolate bars, chips, and pop, then sell them for a dollar each,” he said. “Made myself some comic book money.”
As they got older, the Neil children moved into real jobs at Little Valley. Travis works in the shop; Sheena works bookkeeping and accounting; and Janna works graphic design, social media, and manages Little Valley’s website.
Little Valley has played a role in mentoring young auto-body technicians, and provided opportunities for training.
Although Little Valley has garnered a reputation for working on hot-rods, motorcycles, and classic cars, but their ‘heart and soul’ is in doing a good quality job on every vehicle that passes through their shop.
“Everything leaves here with the same love,” John said.
Little Valley is original equipment manufacturer (OEM) certified to work on several vehicle brands; and their technicians are I-CAR Gold and Platinum certified – the highest possible standard of training for collision repair. Little Valley is also a ICBC Glass Express certified shop – the only auto-body repair shop from Duncan to Nanaimo with this level of auto glass certification.
In the last few years, Little Valley switched to an environmentally sustainable, waterborne paint. John said the switch to waterborne paint has taken the equivalent of 5,000 vehicles a year worth of emissions off the road.
“We try to recycle as much as we can, all of our metals, solvents, and cardboard. All the things that can be recycled get recycled,” John said.
When a vehicle leaves Little Valley, it has been repaired back to factory standards. All their work is done with customer safety in mind to ensure that vehicles perform the way their meant to in collision situations.
Nowadays, vehicle repair requires far more than just a few spot welds. Most vehicles made after 2010 contain sensors, cameras, and sophisticated electronics that need to be fixed precisely to function.
“Some manufacturers will say not to repaint bumpers, because with that extra paint job on there it could throw off the sensor. It’s a difference of about three to five millimetres,” Travis said. “The more mill thickness you have on a bumper, the more that collision avoidance sensor that’s behind the bumper could stop functioning.”
Even some windshields have cameras in them with collision avoidance technology. If a camera isn’t callibrated properly, it could make the car apply the brakes when it doesn’t need to, or the safety features won’t activate when they are needed.
Over the years, Little Valley has received multiple AutoCheck awards from ICBC.
“We were the recipient of that for nine out of ten years,” John said.
John recently turned 65, and said he’s looking forward to spending a little more time at their summer property on Hornby Island, and working on hobby projects.
“We’ve got seven grandchildren, we’ve been blessed with them, so I’d like to spend some more time with them,” John said.
After 40 years, Little Valley Restoration is stronger than ever. Here’s to 40 years, and decades of success still to come.