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Office of Veterans Business Development

From Service to Startup: Cars, Charity, and Community Service

In the United States, nearly one in 10 businesses – or approximately 2.5 million – are veteran-owned. These veteran-owned businesses contribute approximately 1.4 trillion dollars to the nation’s total sales/receipts per year, making them a critical pillar of the American economy. Our office works to empower these veteran entrepreneurs by providing the resources and access to opportunity required for business ownership. Since its inception in 2013, SBA’s Boots to Business (B2B) and Boots to Business Reboot program have served over 60,000 service members, veterans, and military spouses. From breweries and used car dealerships to software consulting and IT sales, these Boots to Business graduates have transitioned from service members to business owners.

Today, we’re highlighting the story of Gary Peterson, a retired U.S. Air Force (USAF) Major and owner of One Community Auto in New Mexico. Peterson’s One Community Auto is the product of a lifelong passion for automobiles combined with his post-service mission of giving back to the community. Since its inception, the business has grown exponentially and was named one of SCORE’s 2017 Small Business Champions.

Bringing Business to Life

Peterson joined the Air Force out of high school, and served approximately 23 years before retiring in Albuquerque. A few months after retiring, Peterson actually worked as a Business Advisor at his local Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC) in Albuquerque.

“Gary Peterson is one of our most successful business owners,” said Richard Coffel, Director of the New Mexico VBOC. “Actually – he got the bug to start a business while working here at our VBOC as the Business Advisor. By helping other veterans, Gary saw how to conquer most of the challenges when starting a business, and applied these newly learned traits to start his own small business.”

During his tenure as an advisor, Peterson decided to take the Boots to Business course, dusting off a business idea he had temporarily put on the shelf.

“I’d always been a huge car nut and had an affinity for fixing them up. Plus, I was a transportation and mechanical guy during my time with USAF,” said Peterson. “I loved community service and had this crazy business idea that combined the two. Taking Boots to Business – both the in-person and eight-week follow-on – helped me put my ideas together in a comprehensive business plan.”

“I came on board as Gary’s replacement, and found him to be one of the most knowledgeable, hungry entrepreneurs I have had the pleasure of working with,” said Coffel. “He is constantly seeking higher and higher challenges.”

For Peterson, Boots to Business opened the door to several SBA resources that were integral to his business success.

“Before B2B, I didn’t fully understand how to operate and grow a business. B2B helped me start my business and most importantly, connect me with resources I needed in the startup phase – such as bookkeeping, financing, and marketing,” said Peterson. “It opened my eyes to what it takes to be a business owner.  Once I decided to pursue business ownership, B2B gave me the direction I needed and the steps to take to get started.”

Peterson tapped into the SBA ecosystem, harnessing the power of SBA resource partners to make the most of his business concept. After connecting with the Albuquerque Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC), Peterson also developed relationships with the local Small Business Development Center (SBDC), SCORE, SBA District Office, and the Procurement Technical Assistance Program (PTAP). Peterson’s sister, who helps with front office operations, even leveraged the Women’s Business Center on behalf of One Community Auto.

 “B2B started this chain reaction of business networking for me,” said Peterson. “I’ve worked closely with my VBOC – in fact, they’re the ones who recommended SCORE’s Emerging Leaders course.  All of the SBA resources have continued to mentor and provide me with the tools I need to grow.”

The One Community Auto Motto: Everybody Wins

A unique idea to say the least, One Community Auto is a used car dealership that raises money for local charities through refurbished car sales. Once One Community Auto receives a car donation – usually a rundown model – they refurbish and then sell the donated car at their Albuquerque retail lot. They characterize the business model as a win-win for every party involved.

“Generally, when charities go through auctions, they only receive 1-20% of the sale,” said Peterson. “When the charities go through us, they’re able to receive 55-60% of the car sale. The car donor receives a much higher tax deduction as well.”

In the end, the donor receives a higher tax deduction than they would via a traditional charity auction; the charity receives a higher percentage of the sale; and the new car owner purchases a vehicle for a lower price than they would from a traditional used car dealership.

2017 Small Business Champion and Beyond

When Peterson first started One Community Auto in 2013, he was the sole employee, had one charity partner, and a total year one revenue of $26,000. Within four years, his business has grown to partner with 16 local charities and employ five people (including one part-time veteran). Now a fully profitable business, Peterson intends to expand One Community Auto and its services across the state of New Mexico – ultimately aiming for a nationwide presence with franchise units in every state.

“Gary has utilized every resource available to him, including the VBOC, SBDC, and SCORE,” said Coffel. “He has learned so much in such a short time that we actually put him on a contract to teach the Boots to Business course at our military installations. His ability to relate to the young entrepreneurs at these classes has proven to be current real-time experiences that students can tremendously benefit from.”

For veterans seeking business ownership or self-employment, Peterson provides a few key takeaways from his own entrepreneurial journey.

  • Create a business plan as soon as possible. Even if the plan is preliminary, a one-page business model canvas helps you at least sketch out your ideas. “If you’re still taking courses, focus them on business-related topics like marketing, accounting, sales, public speaking and so on,” said Peterson.
  • Take advantage of all available resources. Get help early with resources, especially those offered by the SBA. “The easiest thing to do is get some help and mentorship through VBOC, SBDC, SCORE, and other similar organizations. They can guide you through everything you need to do to be successful,” said Peterson. “They want to see you succeed.”
  • Use your military experience to guide the way – and don’t forget to take care of yourself. “The military teaches you how to be mission-focused, disciplined, a problem solver, and also a team player,” said Peterson. “Most importantly, the military teaches you how to take care of yourself in order to withstand stress. Use what you learned to carry you through your business ownership journey.”

If you’re a veteran, service member – including National Guard and Reserve, or a military spouse interested in starting, purchasing, or growing a business, tap into OVBD’s resource network today. To learn more about Boots to Business, or to sign up to attend the next two-day course in your area, visit https://www.sba.gov/B2B.  

Do you have a story like the one above to share with OVBD? We want to hear about it! Share your story with us at VeteransBusiness@sba.gov