Business

High school sweethearts' car repair business a labor of love

It's a business story that's also a love story — about cars and girls and boys.

Mark and Summer Guerrero are lifelong Wichitans who met when they were 16.

On their first date, Mark took a turn too fast and tipped over his mom's Trans-Am with Summer inside. Neither the vehicle nor its teenage occupants were hurt.

The accident didn't scare off Summer. Not long after, Mark started teaching her about cars.

"Mark told me, 'No girl is going to drive my car unless they know what's inside,' " Summer remembers. "That's when the love started."

Today the couple own After Hours Auto Repairs at Seneca and 47th South. Mark is in charge of the repair work, but Summer, who's also a firefighter at Boeing, has been involved in every step of the business development.

Summer said the couple's jobs prove "you can love what you do."

Mark had worked for over a decade as a mechanic for automobile dealerships. He made extra money by working on cars in his garage.

"I used to call it the 'After Hours Garage,' " he said.

To make that a full-time undertaking, the couple put together a business plan with the help of the Kansas Small Business Development Center at Wichita State, which advised them on every aspect of the business, financing to logos.

"They're amazing," Summer said. "I recommend it for everybody. They make sure your business plan is solid and if it isn't, they tell you to go back and work on it some more."

The Guerreros had a location in mind, and when it came open, they jumped at the chance. They opened three years ago, renovating the place nights and weekends with friends and family so that Mark could work on cars during the day.

Summer said the garage's name also reflects the fact that her husband will work late into the night on emergency repairs, such as when an out-of-town motorist breaks down.

"He likes to get them back on the road," she said. "We know what it's like to be stranded out on the road. It's just not fun. You don't know who to trust."

And, she admits of the name choice, "We wanted to be first in the phone book."

After Hours is affiliated with Tech-Net, a nationwide warranty program. It also recently became certified by askpatty.com as a "female-friendly" garage.

"Mark really has a soft heart for women," Summer said.

Mark said his approach to car repair is simple: "Treat people like family. Honesty, and doing stuff right the first time. A lot of cars on this side of town are older cars that do have more than one issue."

As for the Trans-Am, Mark's mom, Evelyn Fleming, long ago forgave him for getting it muddy. In fact, Fleming works at the garage, a fact that doesn't surprise her at all.

"He was always working on cars," Fleming said. "I wanted him to be a doctor. Now he's a doctor of cars."

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