Tough business: Collier's boss talks shop
It's early afternoon at Collier's Towing Service, and owner Glenda Jones takes a break from the phones to greet a reporter in the impound lot for cars towed from Keith Woodard's and other parking lots. Her purple shirt, earrings, and necklace all sport the Harley Davidson logo, a tribute to her favorite pasttime and a suggestion that this woman's tough. To run a business that puts her in the company of angry vehicle owners takes nerve of steel. But hardness, she says, doesn't mean heartless.
"I'm a good person," says Jones, reaching a hand through the fence that runs the length of the lot to scratch the heads of her two rescued pit bulls.
"They're really just big babies," she says, as one of the dogs offers a fetchable stick and the other, tail wagging, stops barking to poke her nose through a fence to greet a visitor.
At nearly 60, Jones has been in the business for decades. In the '80s and 1990s she co-owned Jones' Wrecker Service with her husband. After divorce, about eight years ago, she purchased Collier's to provide independent income.
"It's been good," says Jones. "I'm not rich, but I can pay my bills."
The public's perception of towing operators as greedy and predatory, however, can be hard to take.
"I feel like I shouldn't have to defend us," she says. "We're doing our job."
The majority of that job, she says, is not "violation" tows– which only happen, she estimates, about 20 times a week– but contracts with the American Automobile Association, Allstate Insurance, and myriad repair shops.
"I've been called a bitch; I've been called a rip-off artist," says Jones. "I don't argue with them."
As unpleasant as it is to be on the receiving end of vitriol, she says that she's never had to call the police and that most encounters are pleasant.
"Probably 80 percent of people come in here respectful," she says. "They understand they didn't follow the rules." As for the other 20 percent, "They are mad at themselves, and they take it out on everybody."
One of the biggest complaints about towing is the demand for cash, particularly at night, when withdrawing and carrying a wad of bills may create its own safety hazard. Jones says she stopped accepting credit cards and checks after "multiple" towees stopped payment.
"People say, 'Well, you only take cash, so you pocket it," says Jones, stressing that she issues receipts for every transaction and pays taxes on all income.
So is it true that the drivers who patrol the Woodard lot and other lots get a cut of the action? It is. Jones says her drivers work on a 40 percent commission, a fact that explains their reluctance, when the owner returns, to release vehicles without receiving the full fee.
Jones says she encourages her drivers to be courteous, even in the face of rudeness, and she understands the frustration of her unwilling customers.
"I'd be upset if I got towed," she says. "I know it's not fun."