Whether repairing lawn mowers and other yard equipment, sharpening knives or selling trimmers and chainsaws, SERCO, located at 510 Fannin St. in George West, has been a part of the community since 1982.
Owned by Brent and Becky Allen, the business has continued to thrive despite major changes in the technology of equipment and sales methods of suppliers over the years. In 2020, when many businesses were struggling with the impact of COVID-19, SERCO was as busy or even busier than ever, as people stayed closer to home and focused on yard work during the quarantines and travel limitations.
“I never missed a lick of work through the pandemic, but my wife and I enjoy going to different cookoffs (as part of the Buzzard Bar cooking team) and all of those were cancelled,” Allen said. “About two months ago, they finally started up again.”
Allen has lived in George West since 1979, a far cry from a childhood in which he said his mom recalls living in 42 different places. His father’s work as a surveyor required frequent moves. After graduating from Texas State Technical Institute in Waco, Allen moved to George West where his parents were then living and his father owned a surveying business.
Allen quickly decided continuing that line of work was not for him, and another hobby, racing go carts, led him to his lifelong career. His interest in go carts naturally led to an interest in small engine repair, as well as a desire to work for himself, he said.
“I’m really fortunate that I’ve been able to do this for this long,” Allen said. “It’s not a get rich business by any means, but it’s a good way to make a living if you’re willing to do it.”
Although equipment has gotten much more complicated over the years, Allen has kept up.
“Some of this stuff has computer chips and fuel injection, it’s really changed a lot over the years,” he said. “It’s not just technology that has changed, but the way the world works – the factories and distributors.”
Allen said there was a time when suppliers would pay his expenses to attend training opportunities at different locations – including Virginia Beach. These days, attending an event of that kind is much more limited, and those attending are expected to foot the bill.
“These days, most of the training is online – they send you a link and you watch it,” he said. “I learned so much from being with the dealers at different events, but that’s not the way it’s done any more.”
Decades ago, Allen had offered knifer sharpening in addition to small engine repair and equipment sales, but discontinued that service. Now, he is providing it again.
He said he did so as a way to expand his business, fearing that engine repair opportunities might decline, although he said that hasn’t been the case.
“One of the problems I’m facing now is that some of these mowers are getting so big they don’t even fit in my shop, and I have to work on them in the driveway,” Allen said. “When I built this place, any kind of mower would easily fit in the shop.”
What has Allen enjoyed most about the business?
“Two of the most important things for me have been being in a small town with great customers and also being able to work for myself,” he said. “I talk to dealers in bigger cities and it’s a whole lot different for them in interacting with the customers. For me, it’s pretty laid back. I pretty much run this business the same way I did in 1982, although there have been changes over the years.”
One of the challenges Allen said he is facing is a backlog of equipment orders as manufacturers scramble to get the parts – and sometimes employees – to build items.
“One of the biggest parts of my business is selling chainsaws and it’s been hard to get those lately,” he said. “There are some I’ve been waiting for for months. I probably could have sold 15 chainsaws in the last couple of weeks, but they just aren’t available.”
When he isn’t working, Allen and his wife are likely to be participating in different chili cookoffs across Texas and even out of state. In 2017, they won the International Chili Championship at Terlingua, adding that to state and national championship honors over the years.
“There’s no cash prize for that, everything is done for charity,” he said. “It’s through the Chili Appreciation Society International and we’ve been able to raise quite a bit for charity over the years. It’s been really enjoyable to be a part of that. A lot of the people you meet become like family, and we’re fortunate that it’s the same way with our customers, too.”