Being a small business owner in America has always been a huge part of the Great American Dream! Making that dream happen, isn’t always the easiest path to follow. The challenges that small business owners face can sometimes be overwhelming. The economy, employee challenges and other uncontrollable factors all play a part in the success or failure of a small business.
The Japanese Connection Inc. Auto Repair, located on E. Boulder St., is operated by Kraig Hermes. Kraig became COO in 1996. An already thriving, independent Honda repair shop with a loyal customer base, Kraig could see the potential for growth and the potential to become a leader in the Auto Repair business in Colorado Springs.
As the business began to move in the positive direction Kraig was hoping for, the 9/11 tragedy happened. Everyone who was watching knows, the economy took a sharp nosedive. People were holding on to their money, the stock market was erratic and the talk of war kept people afraid to do anything, but wait. Kraig decided to just buckle down, keep a cap on expenses and wait for the down turn to begin to climb again. Kraig says, 9/11 and the huge hit to the economy, has been his greatest challenge so far. He said “There were always other auto repair businesses closing their doors during the first years that followed 9/11. Japanese Connection just continued to take good care of our customers and hope for the best.”
I asked Kraig what his goals for the future of Japanese Connection are? He told me, “The goals today are the same as they were years ago. To continue to grow steadily. To continue to serve our customers automotive needs. To meet new customers and to show our new customers, there are auto repair businesses in Colorado Springs that are honest and have great ethical standards for business.”
We all know the stories of our own experiences with auto repair shops. I asked Kraig what he thought of the skepticism people have about auto repair?. Kraig said, “If you are honest every time with the customer and you always treat them with respect, you don’t have to worry about the “trust” issue. They know you will always take good care of them and their vehicles.” We care about our community. It is not just about making money. When our customers come in, we want to know how they are doing? We want to know if their car is running properly.” Kraig told me, people appreciate that they care.
Kraig’s success through the years can be attributed to many things-hard work, good employees, perseverance, foresight and a great support system in his wife and family. Though always in the top group of independently owned repair shops, Kraig has taken Japanese Connection to that position of a leader in independent auto repair in Colorado Springs. A business that was operating at a respectable level is now a powerhouse, auto repair business in Colorado Springs.
He has kept up with technology and has continued to modernize his shop. The installation of TV monitors at the customer counter is a smart move. This allows the Service staff to show each customer, pictures of repairs needed or damaged parts. These are kept on file for future reference. His staff is encouraged to stay informed of the most current auto repair information. “Being informed helps us keep our customers informed”,Kraig said.
Kraig and I talked about his staff and his management style. He said, “To him, the key to everything working so well, is his belief, if you hire qualified people and then allow them to do what they know how to do, you generally have responsible, hard working, caring people.” Having a staff like this, gives Japanese Connection a team structure that gets the job done. Everybody is trying to take good care of each and every customer. Kraig said, “If you just don’t micro manage your staff, you will get better results in the long run. That theory has worked well for me.”
What about advertising? Kraig knows the future of advertising is the Internet. His presence on the Internet with the company website(www.japaneseconnection.net),their Blog(http://japaneseconnection.autotipsvideo.com), Facebook, Twitter and other social connections, keep Japanese Connection in the forefront of Colorado Springs auto repair. He recently received an award from Google for being a local Google Favorite. Japanese Connection.net was in the top 1% in the country for Google searches.
The military is another factor for local business in Colorado Springs. I asked Kraig how the 4 military posts around the El Paso County area affect the business? He told me it was a constant up and down flow. When the troops are deployed in large numbers, they see the trickle down of less business. When they come back in huge numbers, the numbers at the shop go up. Japanese Connection is a big supporter of the troops in the area. Military personnel and their spouses always get a 15% discount.
Finally, I asked Kraig where he sees himself in 10 years? He jokingly said, “On a cattle ranch, retired with my beautiful wife!” Then, he said,” Well, I see myself, getting this business ready to pass on to someone else with an American Dream and the willingness to take it into the next generation of auto repair in Colorado Springs. Then I see my wife & I retiring.
Japanese Connection has become the American Dream for Kraig & his family. He has put in the work and applied the passion needed to see something that he had control over, grow to the level it is today. Kraig is a Small Business success story in the Colorado Springs area. He can be proud of the legacy he has built here and his success in living the American Dream.