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Extra Effort After Hours, Makes All The Difference!
After Hours Auto Repair, Inc. in Wichita, Kansas is a life-long dream come true for Mark Guerrero II. The journey to realize that dream was not easy for Mark and his wife and business partner, Summer, who learned to overcome multiple personal and business challenges along the way.
At age 16, Mark enjoyed working on cars, but didn’t like the bad reputation generally associated with auto mechanics. He wanted to one day be his own boss and do what he loved doing, fixing cars, while helping others.
When Summer was deployed to serve in Iraq in 2003, Mark started saving money. Upon Summer’s return from deployment, she underwent chemotherapy to treat cancer. “I think those obstacles we faced helped us focus on fulfilling our dreams while we still can”, said Summer. “We started saving more and cutting-up our credit cards to become more financially fit”, she added.
In late 2006, Summer took the first step by creating a business plan, and attending workshops at the Kansas Small Business Development Center (KSBDC) at Wichita State University. After attending a “Meeting the 3 M’s: Money, Marketing, and Management” seminar, Summer realized that she and Mark would have better results working on their business plan with one of the KSBDC consultants. “Alan Badgley at the KSBDC helped us tremendously”, said Summer. “He suggested that both Mark and I write our business plans separately, so we could then merge the best of both perspectives to form a more complete and inclusive plan,” she continued.
Just creating the business plan was a learning process. As owners and marriage partners, they both realized that they each had their own perspective on how to make the business successful. Summer commented, “I thought the process was a great idea because Mark incorporated a lot of detail in his plan that I didn’t know about how auto mechanics operate”.
After a final business plan was formalized, they were ready to approach a lender to obtain a business loan. While they had closed some lines of credit, they learned that by not having enough available existing credit they could not qualify for a loan.
After the loan didn’t pan out, Mark began generating and saving money by working an additional 30 hours per week in his personal “after hours” garage. “Mark and I had seen this nice two-bay garage with an office that was located at a busy intersection,” said Summer.”It was occupied by another tenant when we first saw it, but we thought it would be a great place to open our business,” she added. One morning, when Summer was driving home after a 24 hour shift at the fire department, she saw someone putting up a rental sign at the location. She quickly contacted Alan Badgley at the KSBDC about updating their financial information, and within weeks they rented the garage they wanted. By combining the new savings, along with their 401k, the Guerreros successfully opened their business to the public in March 2008.
Soon after they opened the business, they ran into another obstacle: rapid growth. Apparently, news spread quickly about Mark and Summer’s mechanical expertise and great customer service, and they knew they needed to find a larger location to keep-up with demand.
Mark and Summer sought KSBDC advice as they managed their growing business in the new, larger location. As their business has grown, Summer has continued to be engaged with the KSBDC and increasing her managerial skill through workshops and consultation. Mark and Summer also hired a consulting firm that specialized in improving efficiencies and the profitability of auto repair businesses.
The assistance from the KSBDC and the consultant paid-off quickly. Within one year, After Hours Auto Repair experienced a 39% growth in gross profit. “There is always room for improvement,” said Summer. “We are constantly looking at our weekly and monthly numbers to capitalize on any trends we see.”
In 2009, the Guerreros were able to secure a SBA America’s Recovery Capital (ARC) loan that was interest free. Summer said, “The terms of the SBA loan really helped us consolidate our finances and pay-off our tools and other start-up expenses.” One year later, After Hours Auto Repair moved to a larger six bay garage that is their current location.
Today, After Hours Auto Repair, Inc. is still growing and adding new staff. They credit their success on giving customers the information they need, and making the process of maintaining or fixing their car as open and honest as possible. Mark and Summer still personally inspect the work done on every car by doing a final quality control check before the keys are returned to the owner. The transparency of the transaction, and quality service, are what keep their customers coming back - and referring the business to their friends.
When asked to give advice to others who may be thinking about opening their own business, Summer suggested anyone interested in being an entrepreneur should seek the advice and assistance that is available at the Kansas Small Business Development Centers. “There is always something new to learn about improving your business,” said Summer. She also mentioned that networking with other small business owners at the workshops helped her and Mark realize that they were not struggling to make-it alone. “There are people and organizations out there that can help you succeed, you just need to reach out and ask the questions,” she added.