UpByFive Interview: Lane Craig

Lane Craig is a native West Virginian who grew up near Columbus, OH and is a graduate of Wittenberg University. His resume is impressive and begs the question, “Does he ever sleep?” (hint: answer found in question #8!). At age 26, he has already: owned his own lawn mowing business; worked at LBrands, gaining corporate and business experience; worked in management in UPS and two other fortune 200 companies, gaining experience in customer relations and operations management; all before combining his business experience and passion for cars to open-up shop for himself. Learn more about his journey below.

Interview as told to Chiedu Bosah and edited by Maggie Tarasovitch.

1. Tell us about your business, Main Street Auto.
Main Street Automotive is a preowned car dealership and repair facility – it’s still very much in the growth stages.  We opened our doors on July 26th, 2015, taking over another business that was on a sharp decline.  From a very young age I was obsessed with cars and, over the years, I’ve become a decent self-taught mechanic. At the beginning of 2015, I received a phone call that an independent mechanic shop in my home town of Spencer, West Virginia was ready to be put on the market.  That same day, I began the process of getting a loan and working out the logistics.

Lane in front of his business, Main Street Automotive. 

2. What challenges did you encounter while building up Main Street Auto?
One of the biggest challenges was working in a different economic climate.  Rural West Virginia is one of the more economically depressed areas in the country.   When Main Street Auto took over the existing garage, we found that many steps had been taken to cater to customers on small budgets, but it is very hard to build a quality reputation using limited equipment and cutting corners to save customers some money. My first move as owner was to upgrade the shop with high quality equipment.  With the right equipment, actual hours per job are reduced and the customer is out the door faster and happier – good news spreads fast in a small town. We have since raised the labor rate comparable to the local franchised Ford dealership and have not lost any business.  Turns out that many people favor paying a higher rate and getting stuff done at a higher quality level, even in a town/region that is not as economically well off.

3. What steps did you take to get a team of people to work for you?
High quality talent is needed to develop a good reputation, and good talent doesn’t come cheap.  It’s probably our second biggest challenge. Finding a good mechanic is rare – many “wrench turners” come in, but very few are qualified mechanics.  You have to be willing to pay for the talent; however, there are some other factors that play in to this.  Providing a friendly workspace that people enjoy makes a difference in productivity and also helps draw talent in.

      One of the biggest things I learned when I was younger was that, as a manager, you should never ask someone to do something that you’re not willing to do yourself. If your employees see you out there, willing to get dirty and finish the job, I feel it brings a different level of respect.  A leader is at the front lines, a boss sits in the back and watches.

A peak inside of Main Street Automotive’s operations. 

4. Your dealership made an expansion recently. Can you tell us more about that?
Timing is more important than skill, sometimes.
 Recently another local dealership came up for sale at auction.  While I had only minimal interest in the property, as we are still making upgrades to our current shop, the opportunity was too great to pass up – the price was a steal and it is a prime location inside the city limits.  The new building has much more frontage space to display cars for sale as well as a large garage that will be able to be used for more general repairs.

5. Do you have any goals you are currently working on?
My main business goal is to expand our facilities until we can handle all aspects of auto repairs in-house.  We are primarily a gas engine repair shop; however, I see us moving into light duty diesel work in the near future.

 

              

Main Street Automotive current facility (left) and recently purchased building for expansion (right). 

6. What advice would you give those out there who may have interests in starting a dealership or their own business in the future?
My advice would be to make sure you plan ahead financially, don’t be afraid to take a risk, and you don’t be afraid to work hard. Nothing will ever go perfectly – prepare the best you can and work with what you’ve got. There were many days in the beginning that I would be in the door by 6am and may not go home until 9 p.m., midnight, or even a few 3 a.m. mornings.

      Sometimes you have to turn down the fun frivolous things in order to make the self-employment work.  It’s a lifestyle, I’m not in it for the money.  Passion comes first and success will follow. The first year was tough, the second year is easier, but you can’t get any less hungry.

7. What’s your dream car?
This is probably the hardest question to answer. I appreciate cars from all makes and decades.  My classic favorite is a 1969 Mustang Boss 429.  I am very partial to Fords. I now own my 16-year-old self’s dream car – a 2004 Mustang Mach 1.  I rebuilt the car myself from the ground up as a full-blown road course race car (32v engine, 5 speed and solid rear axle).

8. Lastly, Lane – are you UpByFive?
Yes sir! Your UpByFive initiative reminds me of a quote by Arnold Schwarzenegger on sleep and success – “I’ve always figured out that there 24 hours a day. You sleep six hours and have 18 hours left. Now, I know there are some of you out there that say well, wait a minute, I sleep eight hours or nine hours. Well, then, just sleep faster, I would recommend.

Questions about this interview? Contact Maggie@UpByFive.com

 

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