GI Motorsports is not just a tuning company. We do a lot of repair, maintenance, and a bit of everything. The idea behind it is like a full concierge service because people want to get different things done to different parts of their car, whether it’s body, interior, engine work, and have to go to two, three, or more different shops to get it done. I wanted to provide a place where people could just get it all done in one place, sit down and deal directly with one or two people instead of half a dozen people to get the job done. We’re an all-in-one and shop but also help people buy and sell their cars and pretty much everything start to finish.
Growing up, I was a tomboy so I always hung out with the boys and did more male oriented activities like sports. I wasn’t really hanging out with the girls doing hair, makeup, or Barbies. It was always about things that went fast so that was where I got my thrill from. Even when I was kid, we’d have little bobsled races. I grew up partly in Minnesota, North Dakota, and then New York. Behind one of my homes was a lake and there was a pretty big hill to get down to the lake so we carved out a little path to get down and it was probably extremely dangerous since there were trees all over.
I was a Series 7 broker. I worked at a couple of banks in the financial area, but no, beyond just liking cars and spending a lot of money on cars, I had nothing to do with the automotive industry. After having bought a few BMWs, and doing fun projects, I realized that once you’re super excited and want to do all these extra things to your car that you don’t really need but you want, it just turns into a nightmare. You’re begging to get your cars back from the shops, things aren’t done on time, and you get charged a lot of extra.
I saw a need in the industry for a little more customer service oriented approach to it and a little cleaner, fresher take on a car shop. So I just gathered up some people I knew at that time that did know cars, that knew a little more than I did, and we put a shop together. Everybody thought I was nuts at first. My family wouldn’t even acknowledge the car shop. Because to them, the idea of a car shop was like dirty, uneducated, nasty men running around with oil over them.
I kept having this idea and wanted to get involved so I hung out at another car shop a little bit and was talking to my friend who is an amazing entrepreneur. He came from the finance area and I had helped him actually start up a venture capital firm and was working with him. We were constantly listening into people’s ideas because people would come in and pitch us all day.
I actually started the business with $30k when I was 25 with my ex-husband after having a 2-week old baby. He had a background in some racing and had restored cars as a hobby growing up with his father. I had the business background and the passion and the drive to do it. I don’t think he really was that vested in it initially. I don’t think he really believed that it was something that was going to work. I had wanted to just start it and go big and he was like, “You’re going to lose a lot of money. Don’t do that. That’s stupid.”
I went around to some of the places I have gotten some work at and developed relationships with people and was like, “Hey, do you want to come work for me?” People came and it was amazing that by the third or fourth month, we were doing over $100,000 in sales. It was absolutely amazing because most small businesses don’t make money for years, let alone with the $30,000 initial investment.
After I decided to pursue my idea, I was driving around looking at shops to rent that looked like they didn’t do a lot of business and wanted to lease. I was being very cautious to not jump into anything too big, lengthy, or a large space. I drove into this shop and it looked like a wrecking yard. The cars looked like they haven’t been moved for years. There was literally dirt packed between the car and the concrete. I was like, this is the one because it is definitely was not doing any business.
I walked in and I said, “I’d like to lease your property or possibly buy it. Who do I need to talk to?” The guy who I was speaking to was actually the owner of the property and he looked at me and was like, “What?” He was so rude to me and shooed me away like I was some little kid. He was like, “What do you think you are going to do here?” I was like, “I want to have a car shop.” He was like, “Who do you represent?” So he assumed I was a broker or something. He’s like, “Who do you work for?” I was like, “Just me,” standing there by myself in my little suit.
As far a being a female in the industry is, there’s not a lot of upside really. Maybe I’ll get a few more likes on some pictures on social media than a guy working on a car, but there’s really not a tremendous upside to it. It’s caused problems with me personally such as dating, it has caused problems in my marriage because I think I am a little more assertive. I wouldn’t say necessarily aggressive but I definitely am not as feminine. I’m not going to be a homemaker. I’m not going to sit home, cook, and clean. I want to be in the car shop. I want to be driving cars.
I think there are a lot of different factors that affected that. I think the economy was a lot better then. People were spending a lot more money just even on repair and maintenance. At that point in time, I would call somebody up and say, “This is what you need for your car,” and they would say, “Okay. When is it going to be done?” Now, it’s like “Oh, can I get a discount? Is there something I can do without?” So I think the economy was really good and it was a good time to start a business for that.
I just networked with people I had worked with previously. I had worked at Paine Webber on Rodeo which at that time was a really large office. There were about 200 people in it, over 100 brokers and obviously these guys are all very flashy and like nice cars. It took a while but I had to get a couple of them over and then they were like, “Oh okay, she does kind of know what she is doing. She didn’t screw up our cars. They didn’t catch fire.” They all just started coming and referring more people so it was word of mouth.
Yeah, I still deal with that. I still hear stories that I’m just the face of the business. That I don’t really know anything. I’m like, “Well, where do you guys find me usually if you’re looking for me”? Usually in a car shop. I just don’t care. People can think what they want to think, whichever is most convenient for them, whatever they are most comfortable with is fine with me. If it’s more comfortable for somebody to think that I’m just the face of the business and I don’t know anything, I guess that’s what they are comfortable with.
Just realize there are people who are going to like you and some people who aren’t going to like you. It doesn’t really matter. Just put those negative people out of your life and just focus on the positive and believing in yourself. You’re going to fail over and over and over again, and you will look stupid sometimes. You’re going to feel bad but just know that it’s always temporary. It’s going to pass but you’re going to have failures. You’re going to feel shitty about it and somebody is going to say something about it but it will pass. That’s what I would say to anybody who wants it. You’re not going to become successful, you’re not going to own your business or work for yourself if you are not disciplined and don’t keep moving every day.
I would say it’s probably around kind of allowing my personal life to get involved in business and I think that’s difficult. When you’re an entrepreneur, everything mixes, like this morning, I was dealing with family, I was dealing with banks, and I was at the shop. It all just comes together when you’re an entrepreneur and you work for yourself, but over the years, you learn to separate it. You have to keep your personal life personal and you have to keep your business life business and have a little bit of separation between the two and not doing that is where I feel like I went into my biggest failure and I learned so many lessons about that during that time.
It’s extremely competitive and extremely cut throat. Everybody wants to get in the car game, whether they want to start their own real line of aftermarket accessories or their own car shop. Everybody wants to be part of this world since it attracts a lot of people. There’s really no secret ingredient. You have to be very resilient and you have to have very thick skin. I don’t know if it’s that I have thick skin or just have the ability to block a lot of stuff out. I found a way to exist in this industry and just get along with everybody. I’m genuinely interested in people. I’m genuinely supportive of what other shops do but that’s really rare.
If you do really good work, that is going to speak for itself and I think that is the most important thing for anybody who wants to get in this business as I just see a lot of shops opening and I see some things happening that aren’t really proper. I think it’s done because they believe they are going to get ahead in some way but you’re not going to get ahead. You just need to focus on your work doing quality stuff.
All my friends are like, “Oh well, we want to get this done on our car. We need this or whatever. Let’s just go over to Amber.” It’s like, “Yeah, you know what, it’s not free for me. Why is it going to be free for you?” That’s something that I have to continuously tell people. I have to pay for labor. I have to pay for parts. I have to pay for the space. Why would I just give it away? I don’t mind helping people out and I used to help a lot of people out. A lot of money even when points in time when I didn’t have anything. Those people were not better for me and that money would have made a significant difference but at the end of the day, I’m happy that I did it because that is what makes me who I am, but it’s a constant struggle reminding people. I won’t work for people for free. I value my work, I value my staff’s time, and I’m not going to give it away for free. I will help people out and stuff like that but it’s not free. That has been a struggle because I like to help people. That’s just part of who I am.
I think the biggest thing about being a female entrepreneur would be don’t focus on the fact that you’re female. It’s not just women. It’s people with different races or whatever it is limiting themselves and using that as a card for excuses in why they didn’t succeed or why they didn’t the job or why they didn’t get that. It doesn’t matter. Don’t focus on the fact that you’re female. That’s the body you came in so just do your job. Do your thing. Do what you believe in. I hear a lot of, you know, I hate to say it but there’s a lot of different girls that want to be in the industry or are part of it in some way or another and they are always complaining about it.