This month’s breaking average inspiration comes from local entrepreneur, Dave Swartzlander, owner of CPR Auto Center. Dave shares what he has learned during his 37 years of building his business from scratch. He talks to us about:
- The hardest and best parts of starting your own business
- Advice for someone about to start their own business
- Essential practices/tools for any business owner
- Traits every Business owner should have
- Tips for balancing family and business
Meet this month’s Breaking Average Inspiration
Dave is the owner of CPR Auto Center, in Mifflinburg, PA, a 17 bay auto body and mechanical repair garage. He built this business from the ground up starting with only his high school training. During high school, Dave opted to join a technical training program at the Sun Area Technical Institute in New Berlin, PA. According to their website, they offer world-class training to high school students. While participating in this program he took what he was learning and practiced on cars in his father’s basement garage, repairing damaged cars for customers willing to hire him. He also worked on restoring his 1969 Road Runner, which he would later sell.
After high school, Dave obtained a job working for a local auto body shop, Culp’s Autobody, and over the course of six years received on-the-job training. He then took a job at Kratzer Mazda Auto Body Shop. During those three years working for the Kratzer Mazda, he states, “I saw the potential to make a decent living, owning my own business, and making more money.” His dream emerged of one day owning his own auto body shop.
In 1992, Dave began to put his dream into action. While he continued to work for Kratzer Mazda during the day, at night he worked on his own business doing collision repair in a small rented garage. After several months of working two jobs, he finally made the decision to leave Kratzer Mazda and run his own collision repair shop.
Consistently, about 20% of small businesses go under in the first year. (Source: https://www.chamberofcommerce.org/small-business-statistics/)
When the owners of failed small businesses are surveyed, almost half of them claim that lack of funds resulted in the failure of their business. In these cases, not enough money was coming in for them to pay employees or deal with other expenses. (Source: https://www.chamberofcommerce.org/small-business-statistics/)
Dave states some of the scariest things about making the transition was the fear of failure, worrying if he would get enough business to make it on his own. Dave states those first few years of building his business he didn’t take home a paycheck, instead he reinvested what he made back into the business. During these early years, Dave and his wife lived off his wife’s full-time income. Dave reflects, “Nothing was handed to me, I had to work for everything.”
According to Fotunly.com, “Over 50% of small businesses rely on the entrepreneur’s personal savings in the initial phase.”
Moving on up
Dave grew his small business at the rented garage from 1992-2005 into a 6 bay garage with 5 employees. In 2004 he purchased a 6.5-acre property and existing garage with 10 bays. He hired a construction company to do a 1/2 year remodel adding several more bays. This larger facility enabled Dave to add Mechanical repair to his existing Auto Body repair business.
Over the years Dave states he has had both successes and failures. He remembers trying out some things that they later dropped. Things that, for one reason or another, weren’t a good fit for him. He mentions U-haul rentals and paintless dent repair to be two things that he opted out of. Each venture taught him something about business and what his customers were looking for.
Today CPR Auto Center has 13 employees. Dave has come a long way from his father’s basement garage. Now owning a 17 bay, collision and mechanical repair business, complete with towing, roadside service, and Express Rental Cars.
Dave modestly states, “I am not what you typically think of as a business man, I am not well spoken or highly educated with college degrees. I have to give God credit, He enabled it to happen.”
There may not have been formal college education on his resumé but Dave states it is imperative for every small business owner to continually educate themselves with the latest information and technology. According to Dave, he often attends trade shows, takes trade and management classes, and participates in a mentoring group similar to a “Twenty Group.” Dave suggests choosing a Twenty Group outside of your customer area because this eliminates the competition aspect between business owners in the group.
Niada-Training.com, states, “A Dealer Twenty Group is an association of 12 to 20 automotive dealers with similar business models and similar-size operations. Members meet at various locations, decided on by the group, to share best practices, their successes and failures, ideas to improve operations, and most importantly, their financial (composite) data. Each Twenty Group meets three times per year at approximately four-month intervals“.
Experience is a great teacher but seeking out relationships with others in your field can be very helpful. “If I didn’t know something, I searched for the answer. I asked a lot of people a lot of questions.”
Traits of Small Business Owner
Throughout his years of experience, Dave has learned some traits that help build a successful business. “You need to be motivated, sacrificial, and hardworking. You need to know what you are good at. The things that you don’t know, you can learn or hire someone to help you. For example, you can hire someone to help you with the financial end of things. Having an accountant or financial manager is very important.”
Benefits of Owning Your own Business
When I asked Dave, “What are the benefits of owning your own business?” He answered, “Eventually, owning your own business leads to more flexibility in the hours you work and more income”.
Secret to Success
Dave went on to say “Statistically more businesses fail than succeed. You need to know what your customer needs. For us, it isn’t just simply fixing their car. There is as much administrative, behind the scenes work as the hands-on fixing of a car. We coordinate with our clients, supply rental cars if included by their insurance, we talk to the insurance company, we order parts, and we do the hands-on work of repairing the car.” You need to be fully aware of all your customers’ needs that fall within the service you are offering.
Balancing Family and Work Life
It takes a lot of time and energy to build your own business. According to Dave it means making a lot of sacrifices. “I wasn’t always good at balancing work and family. I often worked long hours but I had a very supportive wife.” Dave states when their son Jesse was born, he rearranged his work schedule to basically work 2nd shift so that he could help care for their son in the morning while his wife worked. His business didn’t run as smoothly during this time but it was a sacrifice he was willing to make for his family’s sake.
Advice For New Entrepreneurs
Dave offers some advice for those starting their own small business:
- Be dedicated to your dream
- Know you will fail sometimes
- Be diligent and hardworking
- Know you won’t have a lot of free time
- Ask a ton of questions
- Always be learning
“40 hours is what you work to maintain a business, anything over that is investing in it’s growth.”
While growing a successful business was a dream for Dave, which he accomplished, he now has a new dream. Looking ahead, Dave states he wants to start to slow down. He is making plans to downsize and move to a new location.
Dave truly is an example of someone who built a business from scratch. He started with the skills he learned in technical school and coupled that with determination and perseverance to build a successful business. Hopefully, his story has inspired you to live your own breaking average life!
Are you sitting on your dream, unsure where to begin? Then I encourage you to accept the challenge below.
On a piece of paper write down your answers to these questions:
- Describe in detail your ultimate dream.
- What is the number one goal or project you can commit to in 2021 that will get you closer to realizing your ultimate dream?
- NOW BREAK IT DOWN: Write down 12 actionable steps, one for each month of 2021, that will help you bring your goal 2021 goal to life.
Get your free mini-goal planner for 2021 HERE!
Use the goal planner as your actionable guide. Just like Dave’s example above, it takes many small steps to keep moving toward your ultimate Dream.
For more information on setting goals check out this POST from Breaking Average Blog.
*Want more information on building a business from scratch, check out this great article from Forbes.com