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How the owner of Lincoln's inMOTION Auto Care went from working on her own ride to starting her own shop
Sherri Stock remembers the first time she saw it, back when she was in high school and sitting on the front porch. “This beautiful blue 1971 Chevy Nova, this muscle car, driving by every day. I told my dad if it ever came up for sale, I was going to be driving it.”
She admits she was a little naïve when it came to the car she would call her “high school crush”; first, she had to learn to drive a clutch with a four-speed transmission. Then there were wiring problems. “I ended up pushing it a few times,” she remembered, “and my dad said, ‘If you’re going to be driving a car like that, you’d better learn how to fix it.’”
She was fascinated with how the car worked, and tinkering with her ride back then sparked a lifelong love affair with auto repair, which led to opening inMOTION Auto Care, a brand-new, airy and sparkling clean repair shop just off Lincoln’s busy O Street.
With a staff of five highly-trained full-time technicians and 2 knowledgeable advisors, who were technicians in the past, inMOTION serves, according to its web site, as a one stop shop for large or small automotive needs from oil changes, tires, brakes and scheduled maintenance to difficult electrical diagnosis, engine and transmission repairs and replacement.
A month since opening the doors, Stock said “We were worried about opening in the dead of winter but revenues are doing much better than anticipated.”
Overcame early struggles to make a career in the garage
After graduating high school, Stock would be the second woman ever to graduate from the 18-month automotive technology program at Southeast Community College; she also completed the parts management program at the college’s Milford campus.
Back then, recalling her post-college search for a job in a male-dominated field when she sent out 40-some resumes and got just one callback: “They wouldn’t talk to you about turning wrenches, let alone hire you.”
Luckily, a father of a friend she’d had in college gave her a job running the parts department at his Dodge dealership in Columbus. “They’d let you do a little auto work if they were strapped,” she said.
Three years later, she returned to Lincoln for a job with a 100-employee dealership as a wholesale parts advisor, eventually moving up to parts manager. By 1997, she was promoted to the service and parts director, even smiling now thinking about her time as manager there dealing with customers and employees.
But in 2009, as a side effect of the recession, the dealership lost its Chrysler franchise, even despite record customer satisfaction in service and the parts department ranking in the top 10 percent in sales among dealerships across the country. The lot dropped from 400 cars to 100, as a result. For three years, they continued to sell used vehicles and perform service, thanks to a strongly loyal customer base. As the price of purchasing and reconditioning used cars skyrocketed, the owners decided to close the business.
Working for 25 years there, she had expected to retire from there. Instead, she found herself soon to be out of work. “I said to myself, ‘hey, I’m 50, how is this going to work for me being unemployed now?’”
Starting her own business with the help of a 504 loan
She immediately had an answer: buy all the shop equipment plus some company vehicles out of her own pocket, take an already-strong customer base across the street to a vacant lot and open a new service center of her own. Word came down of the impending closing on a Friday; by Monday, lenders from Cornhusker Bank were there to sit down with her to discuss financing.
Stock would need to learn a few things to go from running a department to running her own businesses. Even though she had plenty of experience in forecasting, budgeting and managing inventory, the actual art of accounting was a concern. She took some online classes while the shop was built.
Through her network of female business owners, including an owner of the shuttered dealership, she learned of the SBA’s 504 program and suggested the bank use it to help finance the project.
“It’s a smart business move to use the SBA 504 program,” Stock said. “It really improves cash flow knowing what the payment will be for the next 20 years. I got hooked up with the SBA web site, and there was a ton of information there to explain it, which was great because I didn’t want to go back to the bank looking like I didn’t know anything.”
The 504 Loan Program provides approved small businesses with long-term, fixed-rate financing used to acquire assets such as real estate, buildings and heavy equipment for expansion or modernization. These loans are made available through Certified Development Companies, in this case, Lincoln-based NEDCO.
As a new business, Stock put 15 percent down; Cornhusker Bank financed 50 percent and NEDCO covered the balance. The guarantee was approved by the SBA in June 2012, and as the construction came in under budget, there was enough left over for state-of-the-art security measures and a big new sign.
Ten months later, the doors opened for business.
Aggressive marketing, reaching out to women proving key
One reason the new shop has outperformed expectations is Stock’s effort with online marketing, from an easy-to-navigate web site, to a Facebook page that gets new updates when the place hires a new tech, gets new equipment or new comfy waiting room furniture, even posting one morning when the owners made all the shop employees breakfast.
inMOTION Auto Care also was an exhibitor at the 2013 Lincoln Women’s Expo at the Lancaster Events Center in January, an effort which hardly was the first time Stock worked to make the idea of vehicle repair more female-friendly.
While still at her old dealership, Stock was instrumental in listing that center with AskPatty.com, a web site which lists businesses which have taken significant steps to address concerns of their female customers, and offers companies helpful tips to attract and keep them.
"As a female working in a male-dominated industry, I understand the concerns and questions women have when it comes to automotive service," Stock said.
When she managed her old job’s service and parts department, 68 percent of their customers were women; while inMOTION Auto Care has been open only a short time, already “we have seen a lot of women customers at the shop, both prior customers and new customers.”
Stock would be quick to point out that inMOTION partners with all its customers to protect their investment by providing thorough inspections and the best solutions for maintaining and repairing a vehicle.
Especially if it happens to be a 1971 beautiful blue Chevy Nova.