Former tennis pro Bill Lanza had fixed up a few vehicles as a hobby, but he was not an expert. Still, a steering franchise caught his eye.
"I had been working as a tennis pro for 20 years. I wanted to find another way to earn a living," he explained. "I called the number to find out more about the franchise, which was about repairing and selling steering columns. I never did buy the franchise. But I did start my own business."
Steering Columns Galore opened in 1991 rebuilding steering columns in a shop on 23rd Street in New York City, N.Y. "We were in the capital of stolen steering columns back then," joked Bill. "Thieves would break into a car and steal the steering column. [Customers came to us to] replace it. It was a very steady business."
The company broadened its business when it launched its web site, ColumnsGalore.com, the brainchild of Bill's son, Rick Lanza. "I didn't think it would have that much of an impact," admitted Bill. "But we started getting calls from around the country and around the world. We were able to land large accounts like FedEx and Con Edison. We were able to become the preferred supplier for many of the insurance companies."
Steering Columns Galore specializes in domestic steering columns, Ford, General Motors and Chrysler, from the 1960s to the present. It sells the columns to everyone for the same wholesale price. That means vehicle enthusiasts and walk-in customers get the same price as body shops, insurance companies and large accounts. All steering columns also come with a one-year warranty.
The staff used to offer installation, but these days most customers simply want their columns shipped. Steering Columns Galore will install columns upon request at the Brewster, N.Y. location. Bill explained the company relocated from New York City 15 years ago.
"We had to find a new place, but in the meantime, we worked out of Rick's basement and backyard," remembered Bill. "It was quite a challenge to set up shop that way. We had tents in the backyard. Three years ago, we were able to buy the Brewster building. Now we have 3,000-square-feet of space."
The Lanzas still love the business, but admit the amount of technology involved in steering columns has increased. "The columns are pretty complicated today," explained Bill. "There are millions of tiny parts and springs that control other systems in the vehicle - like the radio, security system or air bag. There are even small computers in the keys now that communicate with the steering column. The columns are so intricate that even professionals don't like working on them."
That dedication and expertise has been the key to the success of Steering Columns Galore. According to Bill, there is little or no competition to the 20-year business.
"We've been working on it for so long and so hard that we really have mastered it," he explained.
The Lanzas keep up on technology by reading technical articles and talking to vehicle dealers and others in the industry. Whenever anything new comes out, they find a column and take it apart.
"When you've been doing it for as long as we have," said Bill, "you can usually figure out what's new and how it works."
Because the steering columns are so complicated, he cautions customers to talk to a Steering Columns Galore representative before placing an order.
Staff is available from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Owners: Bill Lanza & Rick Lanza
Location: Brewster, N.Y.
Years In Business: 20
Number Of Employees: 5