An apprenticeship that has become much more

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As an intellectually curious person with a passion for DIY, I have always embraced learning new skills. This includes understanding how automobiles work and the ability to maintain my own vehicles.

In June 2019, I walked into my local garage, Dover Paint & Varnish (DP&V), to inquire about an apprenticeship as an automotive technician. As the name suggests, the Littleworth Road family business started selling household supplies including paint, wallpaper, varnish and glass. Over the years, the hardware and convenience store has evolved into several automotive segments including: gasoline and diesel, towing, and maintenance / repair. That alone is a fascinating story, but I digress.

After a few conversations with founder and co-owner Richard “Dickie” Kay, I learned my timing was right when it came to the opportunity to learn and make money. I then met service manager David “Nappy” Napalitano who called me over on a Saturday to assemble and balance the tires on the 1990 Volkswagen Corrado that I was left. This first lesson was followed by a few others. It wasn’t pretty, but with the struggle comes growth.

A month later, the learning extended to being able to work as many hours as I wanted. As a writer and consultant, I am used to wearing different hats; However, working in a garage as an auto technician involved more than swapping hats. The new shoes would be steel-toed, while my shirt and pants would be part of a uniform. In addition to the uniform and duds, I also expanded my vocabulary (automotive related and more). I’ve learned that there is merit in talking to inanimate objects that don’t want to cooperate. Damn it, rusty bolts!

The ability to learn a new trade is invaluable and, as Richard once told me, “no one can take away what you learn”. In that vein, I am grateful that Richard, his son Duane and Dave made it possible for me to be part of such a great team. Each day was truly unique, presenting a different set of challenges and new lessons. This was due to the fact that DP&V maintains a wide variety of vehicles. One day I was doing brake work on a new Honda Civic, the next day I was fixing a steering pipe on a 1960s Cadillac Eldorado.

Dover Paint & Varnish team photo from left to right: Matt Gagné, Dave Napalitano, Seth Ulinski, Ben Hoyt, Duane Kay

While a positive attitude is useful in any endeavor, my learning would never have become what it has become without the guidance and support of several people. That said, my counterparts – Matt, Steve and Benny are some of the most talented and hardworking people I have ever met. Everyone treated me with respect from day one and they were always ready to help me (and each other) break a deadlock. For anyone familiar with the auto industry, this willingness among auto technicians is rare because the industry’s standard compensation model is a lump sum (paid per job completed). This model does not allow team play – put your key down to help your colleague for 15 minutes and you waste that time – even if you are working technically.

An automobile is usually the second biggest ticket a person will buy, so it makes sense that people tend to be selective about who works on their car or truck. With this in mind, DP&V has been part of the community for over 50 years and has become an icon in the NH Seacoast area. The company did not fire anyone during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, testifying to a loyal customer base and management treating its employees like family.

Although the name of the company is a bit of a misnomer and the company can be considered “old fashioned”, the integrity and reputation of DP&V speaks for itself. Each day the handwritten calendar is filled, reserving two or more weeks. The team also helps those in a rush, which sometimes creates a bit of organized chaos, but that’s for all the right reasons. This is why my family has brought our vehicles to DP&V for over 20 years and why I walked into the store two years ago with a hat in hand. Being able to serve the community has been extremely rewarding and I am grateful for all the friends I have made with colleagues and clients. As I return to work full time as an office jockey, I take my hat off to the DP&V team!

Seth Ulinski is a resident of Dover. He graduated from Clemson University with a BA in Spanish and International Business. During his 20-year career, Seth has worked as a business analyst and digital marketer. He is also a published author and blogger. For his hobbies, he enjoys fitness, the outdoors and spending time with his family.

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