By Katie Newman
The day the storm hits, fine, powdery snow coats everything on the ground. It’s difficult to stomp through the parking lot full of cars at AJS Auto Sales in Scarborough, Ontario. A young man stands in the window of the shop under a lit “OPEN” sign. By the time you enter through the glass door, he’s come to greet you. He walks across the rest of the small shop and leans back in his black desk chair, his binder out in front of him. His younger brother walks to greet you as well and then stretches out on the opposite side of the desk, right in front of the doorway.
Their father, in a navy-blue sweater with yellow writing, smiles at you from behind the main desk in the cramped shop front. He laughs with his sons, who sit to his left, about some unheard joke. His mother sits to his right, at her own desk, separated by a short wall, continued by an assortment of tall, leafy greenery. Covering the ordinary beige walls are vibrantly coloured licence plates, cut up to make phrases like, “dream it, plan it, do it,” mixed in with vintage auto shop signs.
Anthony Picilaidis, owner and manager at AJS, explains he named the shop after his sons, John and Stephen, “My mom started coming in the past year, so we sometimes jokingly refer to it as AJSK, for her initials as well. But it’s not up on the sign yet.”
But they have acknowledged Katerina’s contributions. Right beside the front entrance is a plaque stating, “employee of the year”. Above is a photo of Katerina with two big thumbs up and a huge smile. She also has a t-shirt, celebrating her award – the blue logo emblazoned on the front, a car with “AJS” underneath, and a large, red “K” photoshopped on at the end to mark her initial.
At AJS, family is important. For Picilaidis, he is extremely proud of his two sons. John, who is also a full-time student, helps his dad sell cars to security companies and the local community. Stephen works on the social media and helps customers find the right car.
In an area blanketed by car repair shops and dealerships in southern Scarborough, AJS stands out as a new, barely two-years-old family business. Picilaidis got into car sales after a recent career change. He says their passion is giving back to the community. Picilaidis explains, “In some cases, they’ve gone through a divorce or they’re going through one or they’ve fallen on some tough times and they just need a car to get them from point A to point B. We’re in a situation where we might be able to help them out and so you try and do your best to help them out with that.”
A big smile crosses his face and his demeanor changes as he recalls one woman who came in to buy a car. “Her minivan died and she needed a new one and she came in and she said she had a great experience. When I went to shake her hand and congratulate her and see her off, she said, ‘oh no, I need a hug,’ and then she told me what a great hug I gave.”
On days like today, when the snow covers everything, no one is out on the streets. Yet, inside AJS, all four members of the team are present. Picilaidis mentions it was a struggle to get everyone here this morning, smiling over at his son John pointedly. He enjoys working with his children, he says it will teach them how to deal with people, which Picilaidis says is his favourite part of the job.
His favourite part about being a small business is the comfort of knowing, “everything you do; the buck starts and stops with you. If you work hard, you might find some success.”