More than a generation of technology separates Chuck Thomas from his 17-year-old son, Zach.
But that's not stopping the Rock Hill father-son duo from forging ahead with one of Rock Hill's most unique family businesses.
Fifteen years ago, Chuck Thomas founded Thomas' Mobile Maintenance, an automotive repair shop that operates out of a converted moving van. When his customers' vehicles need repairs or routine maintenance, Thomas brings the shop to them -- a mechanic who makes house calls.
Realizing that the future was in motherboards, modems and mouses, not greasy brake pads, Thomas started another branch of his business a few years ago called Mobile PC. It's the same concept but offers service and repair for home computers instead of cars.
Now, Thomas is handing the reins of Mobile PC over to his son. It's an early high school graduation gift of sorts for the Applied Technology Center student, who will finish his schooling in June.
Zach will run the computer business, which he is renaming GoZachs.com, and dear old Dad will keep the mobile mechanic's shop running smoothly.
Together, they've found a way to embrace progress without surrendering the family business.
"I'm just handing him the torch," Chuck Thomas said, adding that he'll probably be hiring an additional mechanic so he can oversee both operations. "I'm hoping to sit back and run both businesses from the office. I'm at the age where I'm ready to kick back a little bit."
Zach soaks up knowledge
It's a different story for Zach. He's ready to kick it up a notch. In addition to giving the computer service business a new name and logo, the boy wizard of PCs, Macs and everything in between already has launched a Web site and is booking jobs on the side while he finishes school.
He has taken courses available through the ATC's Information Systems Technology program. He plans to enroll at York Technical College next school year to continue adding to his list of abilities.
Thomas said since Zach was as young as 13, he has been helping fix computers for the business. Not bad -- but also not a surprise, considering he has been soaking up knowledge since his first computer arrived in 1995. Zach was 5 at the time.
"That was the first computer I crashed, too," Zach quipped.
Said Thomas: "He'd push it and push it and push it until it crashed. Then, he'd figure out the problem, fix it and make it even better than before."
Don Gillman, principal of the Applied Technology Center, said Zach joining his father's business is an example of a mission accomplished for his school, which strives to help students put their academic studies to practice.
"Zach has gotten in here and seems to just have a knack for it," Gillman said, noting Zach has helped diagnose school computer glitches and helped peers who were struggling. "He's a very mature young man and appears to be on his way to success."
With GoZachs.com, Zach will offer full computer repairs, software upgrades, wireless network solutions, Internet security and home theater installation and service.
The foundation for GoZachs. com was laid by Thomas, who brought the mobile service concept to Rock Hill in 1993. After a stint in the West Virginia coal mines, Thomas opened a farm equipment service business in Kentucky in the 1980s. He ran a shop but also made house calls.
"Believe it or not, I made twice as much money on the road than in the shop," he said.
Thomas moved to Rock Hill in 1993 for a better economic environment and started working for several local garages. He realized that working for someone else wasn't his cup of tea, and he started Thomas Mobile Maintenance later that year.
Now, Thomas has two trucks and contracts to maintain several commercial fleets. He also services up to 150 individual accounts each month.
He's hoping that with his son and the mobile model, GoZachs.com can grow to similar success.
"The mobile idea, I thought, was unique, and it has always seemed to work," Thomas said. "We're here for the long haul."