Business Person of the Month: Blaze Ragusa

Ragusa Automotive
2714 Government St.
(225) 344-2736

Business Motto:

Shoot straight with the customer. Be honest about the job.

Ragusa Automotive is a full-service garage/repair shop for foreign and domestic cars and trucks. The shop performs routine maintenance on all makes and models as well as necessary repairs. Shop mechanics will diagnose problems and do what is necessary to keep the vehicle in good running order. In the past making repairs mostly involved using tools and often relied on the mechanic’s instincts; today a lot of the diagnosis is computerized.  Blaze Ragusa and his crew have experience and expertise in both areas of diagnosis and repair.

Ragusa has been interested in how things work since his childhood. As a boy he collected discarded bicycles, rebuilding those he could or using the parts for other bikes. He did not sell the bicycles he built; instead he and his friends raced the bikes, rode them hard and usually ended up destroying them. He would yank them apart; experimenting by making them bigger, smaller, lower to the ground, etc. His father often complained about all the bike parts in the back yard. Ragusa’s first car was also a fixer-upper. His father, who owned a service station, said, “if you want it to run, you need to fix it.”

At age twenty–one, after serving 4 years in the Marine Corps, Ragusa went to work at a Ford dealership on the California coast working maintenance for the sales department. He washed and detailed newly sold cars. Later he switched to the service department and began doing deliveries, picking up parts, etc. One of the mechanics had trouble coming to work on Mondays, and the service manager asked Ragusa to fill in, so he started changing oil and doing other simple mechanical jobs. After several years, he decided he could do the same thing in Baton Rouge and be close to his family.

He returned to Baton Rouge to work as a mechanic in various places, the last at Goodyear. He was also doing automotive work on the side. His customers began bringing their cars to Goodyear for consultations, and he was constantly being called to the sales floor. In 1991 he made the decision to start his own business, first a mobile service; he would come to you and repair your car on site. This lasted one month. After an all-day brake job in a parking lot which earned him a mere $60, he realized it was not cost effective. “Driving home one night I caught a red light on Government and saw an abandoned filling station, back from the curb, its eaves rotting.” The dilapidated building had a for rent sign on it, and he wondered if he could afford it. He raised $450 by selling several cars he had rebuilt. He cleaned the station up, purchased insurance and licenses and was broke again.

To pay for his first job in his new building, he borrowed $75 from his dad to cover the cost of parts. The money from that job paid for the parts for the next one and so on. Soon he was able to pay his father back and after that first year he was able to hire a mechanic (who has now been with him 19 years.)

Later he bought the corner lot next door. He remodeled the building, offices, bays, and bay doors himself during a 4 month ordeal. The corner location gave him more visibility which helped his business grow. He now employs five to six mechanics, depending on the work load.

In his spare time, Ragusa works on his own cars; he’s currently restoring a 1956 Pontiac (pictured below).  His favorite reading (besides automotive manuals) is about history. Ragusa appreciates the fact that the library carries Mitchell’s professional automotive manuals and now has online databases to help mechanics.  “It’s a big help for the small businessman that he doesn’t have to purchase his own library of manuals.”

Ragusa says he has been blessed in his business. He credits his success to the loyalty of his customers. “My formula for success is simple– Dedication, Hard Work, and Good (loyal) customers.”

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