FEEL GOOD UNDER THE HOOD
Frank’s Automotive: Tammy and Frank Smith Carmel, NY
Unless you’re a car mechanic yourself, dealing with a repair shop requires a leap of faith. At Frank’s Automotive, Caleb “Frank” Smith listens to what you say and what your car does, and then puts his expertise as an ASE Certifie Master Technician, an official title mechanics take many tests to acquire. He provides estimates, makes the diagnosis, test drives his work, and shares evidence (worn brake pads or rusted exhaust pipes are easy to see). He recycles old parts, buys in bulk (meaning fewer plastic containers) and provides used oil to a business that recycles it for heating purposes. A small business loan from Community Capital made it possible for Frank—a mechanic for 27 years—to have a shop of his own. It’s a family business, with his wife (high school sweetheart) Tammy working a second job as the businesses’ CFO and daughter Courtney using it as an after school job training program. Their eldest, Megan, worked in the office before graduating, too. The hands-on team is about to hire a second fulltime employee, install a second car lift and remodel to make the waiting room even comfier.
How did you get into the auto repair business?
Frank: Right out of high school a buddy and I opened up a car repair business in Wingdale. Most of our clientele was comprised of workers for the psychiatric hospital. When it closed in 1994 we lost 50% of our clients. Then I started working as a fleet mechanic. But I always said if I knew today what I didn’t know the first time, I’d do it again. And here we are.
How did you get your business off the ground?
I had been a Fleet Mechanic Manager for five years, but was laid off. My wife works for the owner of the building who offered to rent me the garage portion. I’m third generation in Patterson, a hamlet about five miles away. I have known a lot of my customers since I was a kid.
How did your business evolve?
I came up with the money to buy some of the larger equipment, but was short on working capital. Community Capital gave us a $25,000 loan to help pay the bills for the first couple of months, buy inventory and smaller equipment, like the inspection machine. It grows by word of mouth, a good honest business that expands with people recounting their positive experience here to other people. We are a Napa Auto Care Center, which allows us to offer a 24 month/24,000 mile nationwide warranty.
What’s the best advice you got along the way?
Operating a successful business is stressful. You are taking a big chance. It’s not like when I was young. Now I have a family to provide for. When I first opened up I stressed over paying the bills. Now that we are busy, I stress over customer service. I’d take the second stress over the first any day.
We will be painting the building, adding some new signage, putting up a second lift and making the waiting area larger. We also hope to hire a fulltime ASE Certified Master Technician, which will give me more time to spend on customer service. I’m here late some evenings trying to keep up with invoicing, ordering parts, and finishing up vehicle repairs.
Frank’s Automotive, 10 Commerce Drive, Carmel, NY, 10512, 845.319.6211, http://franksautomotive.org.