YAKIMA, Wash. Peek inside Auto Art and Collision Repair at closing time and it looks like the answer to a math problem: how many average-size automobiles can you fit into a 5,000-square-foot body shop?
A photo on their Facebook page shows a crazy quilt of cars parked bumper to bumper, with barely room to walk from one end of the shop to the other.
“When people used to say, ‘location, location, location,’ I never believed them,” said Irma Philp, who owns the business with her husband, Mike. Now she does.
After years of being down a side street and around the back, they now command a corner lot at a four-way stop. Potential customers can’t help but notice their new building at South 118th Street and East Mead Avenue.
The move cost them nearly a month of revenue, Irma said, but even so revenues are up 34 percent from last year, they are in the process of adding three employees and they are already planning a 2,000 square foot expansion. “It’s been spectacular,” Irma said.
If you are wondering if the American Dream is alive and well, the Philps might be good people to talk to.
“We stand back sometimes and I tell (Mike), look how far we’ve gotten,” Irma said.
Mike first started doing body work when he was in high school, and opened his own shop in 2004. When his landlord raised his rent in 2009, he knew it was time to buy a building or find property, but he couldn’t get a loan.
Then, in 2010, Irma started meeting with Linda Johnson, the SBDC certified business advisor in Yakima.
“Linda has been amazing,” Irma said. “I couldn’t ask for a better person to help us.”
Johnson was able to go through their financial statements with them and explain what the loan officers were looking for, Irma said. “Linda was able to tell us, ‘This is where you need to be,’” Irma said, and then she helped them chart a step-by-step plan to get there.
One day when Irma and Mike were expressing their frustration with existing properties—either they were in a poor location or they required extensive renovation or repair—Johnson asked if they’d ever thought about building their own shop. “Mike and I just looked at each other,” Irma said, and laughed. “I was like ‘Building? What do you mean ‘building’?’”
When Johnson opened that door, Irma and Mike jumped at the possibility and immediately set about finding a piece of property they could afford that would also give them good visibility.
It took time, and additional assistance from Tom DiDomenico at Evergreen Business Capital, but finally, on Aug. 12, 2013, the Philps were notified their SBA loan for land and new construction had been approved. They broke ground on Dec. 30 and they moved into their new shop in May 2014.
“We are 35 years old and we never imagined this is where we would be” she said. “Sometimes we just think, ‘Wow, what an accomplishment.’”
By Hope Bell Tinney, Washington SBDC
Mike & Imra Philp, owner Auto Art & Collision Repair, LLC, 509.248.7874, http://www.mikesautoart.com