Mark and Summer Guerrero recently spent between $60,000 and $70,000 on a car alignment machine, taking on serious debt for the first time — and it made them sweat.
They felt pretty confident it was a good decision, and it turned out even better than expected for their business, After Hours Auto Repair, 2606 W. Pawnee.
But they’re conservative business owners by nature.
For a decade Mark was a mechanic, mostly with Scholfield Bros., and later a manager for CarMax, but developed a side business working on cars at home at night.
“I always wanted my own shop and to see how well I could do,” Mark said.
They met at 16, married at 18.
Summer did not embrace auto mechanics at the start, although she liked technical, hands-on work. They married, and, at age 24, Summer joined the Army to gain training as a firefighter. She served in the Army Reserves for 10 years, serving in Iraq in 2003-04. Then she took a job as a firefighter at Boeing Wichita afterward.
Together they raised two children, and went through Summer’s stage 4 breast cancer in 2005, which was successfully treated with chemotherapy and a radical mastectomy.
That created a sense of urgency.
“You know how you tell yourself you’re going to do something, but things just keep getting in the way. You think you’ve got lots of time. Well, that happened and we thought ‘We’ve got to make our dreams happen – now,’ ” she said.
In 2008, when they finally decided to take the jump to their own business, they took classes at the Kansas Small Business Development Center and then Mark started off in two-bay garage at 47th and Seneca. Summer worked full time elsewhere – and did the marketing, finances and the personnel management for the company in her “spare” time.
It was tough. Neither got enough sleep, but they felt they were building something.
“I saw the passion and the gift he had with cars, and I wanted to be with him,” she said.
To raise money, they sold everything extra, dirt bikes, extra cars, to raise cash. They wanted to make sure that if the garage folded, they could make the debt payments on the salary Mark would earn if he had to go back to work for someone else.
They reinvested Mark’s earnings and lived off of Summer’s salary as a firefighter at Boeing. This is while they were raising two children.
The business grew. In 2011, they moved to their present location, which had a six-bay garage.
They’re both personally engaging and have worked to learn how to market their business to established customers, the public and – with the new alignment machine – to other car businesses that need alignment work done.
They don’t service any particular kind of car or do a particular kind of jobs, Mark said. But they’ve gotten a reputation: on the rack recently was a Porsche, a Land Rover, a VW, a Dodge – and an old Ford truck.
The business is doing well, with eight employees including themselves, and yearly growth approaching 20 percent.
They also no longer stay open after hours to service cars, Summer said. They just didn’t have enough business at night.
They occasionally look back and wonder: marriage, raising children to adulthood, deployment to Iraq, cancer, starting and building a business, and they’re not yet 40.
“We did everything right out of the gate,” Mark said.
“Yeah, we started fast,” Summer said, with a laugh.
Mark smiled at that, saying that at 16 he envisioned having what he has now — but somehow missed seeing the 20 years of hard work it has taken to get there.
But it was the vision that counted.
“We planned for this business,” Summer said. “When he was 16, he told me that he would have his own shop someday.”
Some of their best advice:
Be conservative, and don’t overspend at the beginning.
Have a solid plan, and seriously consider the pros and cons. Take advice, such as from the Kansas Small Business Development Center and those already in the business.
Don’t just keep your head under the hood; learn to communicate and sell your business.
Never, ever stop paying your taxes.
Keep investing in technology.
Take a strong stand for ethical business practices and make that part of your reputation.
Network to gain advice and contacts.
Name of Business: After Hours Auto Repair
Year Founded: 2008
Principals (or owners): Mark and Summer Guerrero
Address: 2606 W. Pawnee
Phone number: 316-425-8684