I had the opportunity to interview Sam Panthers; owner and head mechanic at Panther Performance Auto Group. This auto repair shop is located at 8390 W. Colfax Avenue, at Carr in Lakewood. Panther Performance sets itself apart from the norm--just step inside, and you can tell that this place is like no other! Sam, a.k.a. the Satanic Mechanic, is a true metal head and his shop reflects that in every way. And in true heavy metal fashion, he doesn’t care if it offends you.
Business reviews on Yelp and Facebook show 5 star ratings across the board, praising the business for its honesty, hard work and for exceeding customer expectations. Sam prides himself in his work and strives to satisfy every customer’s needs. With that being said, let’s get onto the interview…
RRS: Who is Sam? How would you describe yourself?
I'm Sam F. Panthers, and I'm a fun-loving metal head. I love the metal community here in Denver and I do my best to support the scene through auto repair, concert attendance, beverage purchases, spiritual guidance, and neck rubs. I don't care for shirts and pants, but love vests, and want to see your damn patches!
RRS: What do you want people to know about you?
First, that I'm here for the community. We serve in fairness, respect, and acceptance. This is a tough consumer industry because the information gap between auto technicians and the average car owner is so wide that it's tempting for businesses with less integrity to sell services that are not needed.
My 16 years in distribution taught me that corporations incentivize employees to extract as much money as possible from every customer interaction. I escaped the corporate rat race to build an environment that is sheltered from this greed.
Since opening in October, we've enjoyed shaping the neighborhood community and the metal community into one very interesting and awesome customer set. Our customers rule! We have everything on the spectrum from cross-bearers who disapprove of our imagery of the band Ghoul, but said imagery discourages judgmental customers and keeps most confrontation out on the street.
My shop is a reflection of who I am and what I stand for. The Performance in Panther Performance isn't about what's under the hood; it is how well our business does in creating value through its transformative processes. It's about capability...and heart.
RRS: Where are you from and what brought you to Denver?
My family is from Western Massachusetts, and that's where I was raised. They all still live there – including my 7-year-old boy, Evan. The long hours help numb the pain of that distance along with loving support from my beautiful partner, Rhiannon.
I moved here to be with my beautiful partner, Rhiannon. I had been living in Wichita for 7 years and we didn't have to think long and hard about our options there when it came to relocation. It was disruptive to my former career, because I was managing distribution plants in Wichita and Dallas, which couldn't continue in Denver. I ended up working remotely for the corporate office, where I became aware of the self-serving dysfunction that is Corporate Business and was like Bernie Sanders over there. When I got out, I got out all the way.
RRS: How did you get started in this business?
After being booted out of the rat race just over a year ago, my partner asked me what I would want to do if I could do anything. I said "run a garage". She said, “well then you should plan to do that”, and Panther Performance was born! Now we are excited for our first anniversary, celebrated by a metal show at the Gothic Theater! We've been on West Colfax since mid-October, but our first customer was actually a band who needed a tour rental vehicle, Unearthly, from Brazil. They had a month-long tour planned and flew a drummer in from Poland only to find they had been betrayed by a promoter. No van, trailer, backline, drums, hotel, or rehearsal space. Basically, the tour was fucked before it began because U-Haul wanted $6k for the van for 10k miles.
Fortunately, Unearthly are label-mates with my partner's band, Bloodstrike, and we got the distress call on a Thursday night. By mid-day Friday, we had a plan in place and set about purchasing a Suburban & trailer, then preparing it for such a huge tour for delivery Monday. We worked all day and night to make it happen (which is now sort of the way we do business still, if there's a band emergency!). In the meantime, Bloodstrikers Jeff & Holly took care of their accommodations and rehearsal space. Those guys had enough challenges without Promotwhore betrayal, and witnessing their return without incident on the road was one of the most gratifying experiences I have ever had.
RRS: What did you do before this?
I worked for a global specialty metals distribution company for 16 years and it was an opportunity to do a lot of interesting things within the aerospace industry and also obtain an MBA. All that ended when I hit corporate. You can really experience the excitement of value creation out in the field where the customer action is, but in the ivory tower, the motives were all fucked up. The problem with having a "nice" job is that it can be like having a nice wife. You don't like her, but she's nice, and so you can't think of a good enough reason to leave, and stay tethered far too long.
RRS: Why did you name the shop Panther Performance Auto?
Earlier, I referred to Rhiannon as my partner, but we were having a conversation about three years ago where we agreed that boyfriend/girlfriend sounds juvenile, but life partner implies same-sex for whatever reason. So, Rhia asked whether she could just call me her Love Panther instead of life partner and it all started from there. Ask about our matching Panther tatts!
RRS: Can you explain a little about the name “Satanic Mechanic”?
Sure thing! Panther Performance is the brand associated with the business, and Satanic Mechanic is more associated with me. I catch a little flak for that from time to time, because it can lend credence to the notion that a Jesus-lord was born to a virgin, is a nice guy, but is the same guy that the Bible describes in a lot of other places as a total dick. For me it's simple – my views mirror secular humanism and I could take a live-and-let-live attitude towards the whole thing, but choose not to. As an Atheistic Satanist, I take exception to the notion that Christianity "generally does good" for humanity, and I wear that out on my sleeve. It's awesome to push someone out of their comfort zone - it enables people to see things from a different perspective and possibly grow. Sometimes people are enslaved to their repressed fears, so I seize any opportunity to help weaken the root of hatred.
I use "Satanic Mechanic Tour Support" to describe our role in this ministry. Like it or not, it is supportive of our niche as a metal-themed shop and also serves very effectively to filter out people whose expectations I would never understand. I call this Intentional Retail. If you missed the Baphomet outside, you're sure to notice the inverted cross clock in the office area. If that doesn't send you running out in horror, you may approach the counter. Black Sky Brewery does the same - I copied them in this way.
RRS: What are you doing when you’re not at the shop?
I basically exist at the shop these days, but when I'm not here I can be found at Black Sky Brewery, sleeping at home, or out at a show. This is my briefest response because it represents such a small percentage of my time!
RRS: What exciting things do you have coming up?
In the nearer-than-print term future, I'm excited about an up and coming Metal Maidens car & bike wash. It's sure to be extra fun with some support from the neighborhood. We also have our huge night at the Gothic Theater to celebrate our one-year anniversary! Hopefully every reader will have gone – it's going to be a sick night of cross-genre local metal.
The black metal debut of Sar Isatum, stoner doom outfit Xiphoid Process, classic metallers Satan's Host, reunited long-time thrashers Silencer, and tech death wizards Tethys will round out the ticket with Faded Freakshow, our patch sewing chick, and a special beer collaboration with Black Sky Brewery. We have a patch chick because we are a battle garment drop off station. She has sewn patches on many awesome vests and also creates fur & leather articles, so she'll be at the show with a station. If you buy a patch from Panther Performance, Satanic Mechanic, or any of the bands, for an extra $5, she'll put that shit on right then and there!
I'm incredibly excited to see Rotting Christ's Ritual material live and also the upcoming Gojira tour! Beyond that, the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise in early 2017! I went on the first sailing in 2010 as a self-taught metal head, and it was as transformative as any experience can be. I became aware of a global community that transcends - hell, embraces - individual differences in a way that made it okay for me to just be myself under any circumstances. That cruise heightened every expectation I had from myself or this existence. I've been going back each year since! We've grown into some kind of United Nations of Metal (72 countries represented!) and I even discovered the love of my life "onboard".
RRS: What are your favorite bands?
I love Ihsahn, and feel that he and Rotting Christ stand at the frontiers of their respective genres. I listen to the hell out of Satan's Host's By the Hand... and Luciferion's The Apostate! Otherwise, I'm all about death-doom and occasionally thrash.
RRS: Please tell us how you help bands out who are currently on or going on tour?
Well first off, we're a value brand mechanical generalist. We specialize in people--not certain kinds of cars, parts, or problems. We offer a discounted rate to metal heads, LGBT, and "Illegals" which is of course extended to touring artists.
We offer the following services specifically to touring artists (except church bands): Van/Trailer rentals, pre-tour inspections, pre-purchase inspections, no overtime/expedite charge for bands in trouble on the road in the Denver area. We can also source a van according to your preferences and recondition / secure it in preparation for your tour.
Our shop number is 303.974.5813 and my cell phone is 720.666.1320.
RRS: Lastly, where do you see yourself in 5 years? What are your goals and what do you hope to accomplish?
Able to take a day off? Honestly, this has been the heaviest lifting I've ever had to do from every sensible human standpoint. But creating a sustainable organization that efficiently transforms broken cars into fixed cars with a focus on value and compassion is my five-year plan. Undercharging and overpaying, with respect to our peers, is an incremental investment in my brand equity and our emphasis on enabling artists to realize their dreams is my shorter-term path to actualization. I see our brand as revolutionary, old-school customer service. We walk like Jesus here (just not on water).
As you can see, Sam and Panther Auto Performance Group is truly unique and provides the best in auto repair services! I recently had car troubles and would like to share my personal experience as a customer to attest to the kind of business this is:
“I had an issue with my Honda Civic. It had been overheating and we were constantly adding coolant. We thought it might be the thermostat and radiator. I decided to have my boyfriend replace those parts, thinking that would fix it. Unfortunately, that was not the case! I had taken the car to about two or three other shops before I found Panther. It was the same issue every time. They always wanted to sell me an endless list of parts that I really didn’t need.
Sam came in on a Sunday when most shops are closed. He took the time to take a look at everything. He was completely honest and straight-forward. I also admired the fact that he keeps you updated as to what’s going on with your car while you wait. He was extremely knowledgeable and he was able to fix it pretty quickly with a flush to the coolant system. I guess there was some sort of blockage. He fixed it at an affordable price and he didn’t try to sell me anything!
I will never go to another shop again. It’s so hard to find someone you can trust with your vehicle. I would recommend this shop to anyone and everyone! Its qualities like this, that make a shop endure and succeed. They will have a customer for life! Sam is truly a top notch guy and you can’t beat his customer service. The fact that it’s a metal head’s shop is just an added bonus! HAIL SATANIC MECHANIC!”