Narrated by Matt Weber, Co-owner Clark’s Car Care:
“Trust your crazy ideas”
The road that led me to Clark’s Car Care began when I was an 18-year-old college student majoring in accounting. I got a job as a part-time porter washing cars and doing odd jobs at a car dealership. I enjoyed the automotive business and eventually went on to work in almost every department – detail, parts, car sales, finance – and ultimately, I left school and settled in the service department.
I worked in the service department as a customer service advisor in several dealerships for the next 5 years. There is a unique thrill to be had when you have taken an upset or angry customer and turned the situation around to make them happy.
But how do you sleep at night when you are forced to rip people off to feed your family?
The dealerships I was working at were changing and going in a direction that I felt was unethical. I needed a change.
I started to think….I could do this better. I could help people and fix their cars honestly and still make a decent living.
While continuing to work at the dealership full-time, I used my connections with quality technicians and started working out of our driveway on the vehicles of friends, families, and neighbors. I would pick up the customer cars at their house, bring it to one of the technician’s home garages, get the parts and then deliver the finished vehicle.
Laura and I decided that I was getting big enough that I needed business cards. In order to order cards, we needed a name.
While Laura and I were test driving one of our early customer’s cars we began brainstorming names and Clark’s Car Care was born. The number one question people ask us about our business is how we arrived at our name. In college, I earned the nickname Clark Griswold (the main character in National Lampoon’s Vacation movies) for my habit of accidentally running into doorways and narrating vacation scenic spots in a very dad-like and corny manner. Who better to name your business after but the iconic hero played by Chevy Chase?
As business grew, it took many months of discussion and debate during which time my passion was growing stronger before we began creating a business plan for Clark’s Car Care.
We started getting more serious about opening a location. It was much tougher than we ever imagined. Two kids in their twenties with no money, no credit and no business experience trying to rent a building to turn into an automotive shop. Not many owners were willing to rent their building for automotive use. People were worried we were too big of a risk and it seemed the odds were against us. We searched and we searched and while we searched we applied for a home equity loan and got approved for $20,000. We applied for a lot of credit cards.
We signed a lease, purchased from Office Depot without the presence of a lawyer, ordered a small sign for the door and purchased a motorized car lift. I put my two-week notice in at the dealership and we were all in.
On November 1st 2001, Clark’s Car Care opened its doors in an off the beaten path warehouse in north Naperville. We shared our space with another shop who has since moved on and we remain friends to this day. People said we would fail. People said we were crazy. It was less than 3 months after 9/11 and the economy was struggling. We only had $20,000 from a home equity loan and a whole lot of credit cards but most importantly we had enthusiasm, passion, and the mission to run an ethical business in an industry with an unethical reputation.
Laura made up some flyers on Microsoft Word with attractive oil change prices and placed our first newspaper ad in the Naperville Sun. We started getting some customers who appreciated our customer centered approach to auto service and the referrals started building.
In the coming years, we expanded to our current size of 8 bays and 8 employees. On our journey, we encountered the bumps in the road faced by most businesses – expansion, slow seasons, staffing problems and budgets. We handled these situations by discussing our possible solutions, asking our management company and fellow shop owners for advice, and implementing policies that addressed each issue.
The biggest and most potentially deadly challenge that we faced in our years of business was the decision to dissolve our marriage in 2005. Laura and I decided we made better business partners and parents than we did marriage partners. We knew it was best for the business and the children. While it wasn’t easy at times, we love our children and our business and we worked hard at focusing on both. In the end, it turns out it made us even stronger business partners.
Celebrating our 20 years in business
I love owning Clarks. I still remember our opening day and being so excited that I got to meet the mayor at the Chamber ribbon cutting. I love it because of the door it opens for me to meet new people every day, let it be a new customer or a fellow business owner. I am thankful we are busy during the week and able to spend time with our families on the weekends. I enjoy speaking at career days, attending chamber functions, and helping out local charities. I truly enjoy working with everyone at Clarks. Our corporate culture is strong and customer service based. Every day is truly different and I look forward to every one of them. Well, almost every one……