Starting a Small Business The Mechanics of Success

Work + Money

Carolyn Coquillette VISA 200x2
Carolyn Coquillette, Owner & Lead Technician, Luscious Garage

Owner and Lead Technician of Luscious Garage Carolyn Coquillette talks about what inspired her to start her own business servicing hybrid cars, how she has conquered financial challenges, and why having faith in her own ideas was the most important part of the process.

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What inspired you to start your own business?

I fell in love with the auto trade after college. I liked the shop atmosphere. I liked the idea of having tangible skills, not just being a cog in the wheel. I didn’t have to work in a big office. I could really help people. You see a car coming in, and it’s broken, and then you fix it, and it can leave at the end of the day. That’s tangible progress. You’re able to make people happy. It’s fantastic.

When I discovered this work, I had a sense of purpose that I hadn’t really experienced before.  That was something that really took me into the trade, and got me running, I guess—purpose in my work.

I pursued a lot of advanced training on hybrids, and so it was like my skills weren’t being used working in a regular shop. I was also tired of working on regular cars. I wanted to work on hybrids, exclusively, and there were no other hybrid-dedicated shops anywhere.

In order to have a steady diet of hybrids, I knew I was going have to open that space myself.  It was sort of an “if you build it they will come” kind of thing and that turned out to be true.

Nine years later, here I am.

What was the biggest challenge in starting your business?

The reason people start businesses is because they don’t know how much work is involved.  If they knew how much work was involved, they wouldn’t start them. Now that I’ve started one, I probably would start more, but your first business—it’s shocking how much work there is.  There’s just a deluge of details. There are so many little things to do, and it’s overwhelming, and nothing goes as fast as you want.

But both the excitement and the challenge of owning a small business is all the details—how to find customers, how to attract customers, your logo, your marketing, finding out about the trends in your area, what are other people doing, all those things.

What is your biggest challenge now?

Financially, it comes and goes. This past year has been an uncertain time.  People are not really sure what to expect, and as a result, you have to be very adaptive as a business. 

There are days when you feel like I’ve got something here; people are responding. Then, there are days when the phone doesn’t ring, and you wonder if someone wrote you a bad yelp. It’s more of a cumulative; it’s not momentary; it’s not instant. You have moments of joy, but the long-term sustainability of the business is how much growth are you experiencing long term, and that’s not something that you can see on a daily or hourly basis.  That’s something you have to see over the long term. Now that the business has got a little bit more experience under its belt, we can actually look and say we’re doing well.

What contributes to your success?

We’re fortunate because we’re small and lean, and we can encourage people to come in with other kinds of cars and whatnot. So financially, that’s not the encouragement that’s necessarily kept me going, or made me feel like I’ve been doing the right thing. 

It’s response from the community, from media, from customers, from my neighbors—people who are really inspired by the work that we’re doing and want to spread the word, and also, just the smiles and the positivity that you get from the people that come in the door, whether they’re customers, or whether they’re colleagues or who knows? People really like this space. People like what we’re doing.

The word luscious immediately signals that we do something different here, but the idea is that we’re actually returning pleasure to the automotive experience, but in a different way. Being treated like a human being, and being respected both in terms of your impression of the physical space, and your values, in terms of how to take care of your car, and then also, your financial situation, all that being incorporated is part of being luscious is really having a pleasurable time.

I’ve stayed true to my principles—I do what I think is green, I do what I think is best for the car, I do what I think is best for the customer—that’s what we do here:  equal attention to you, your car, and the environment.

What one piece of advice would you like to share with the community?

Keep faith in your own ideas—what kept me going is faith in my own ideas. Believe that this was supposed to happen, that the world needed your business.

What are some of the trends that are happening in your industry that you think will have a big impact?

The service industry really hasn’t participated in the green movement. Automakers have with hybrids, but the service industry hasn’t; it’s been entrenched in its old ways.

For example, a lot of the shops still write down their work orders. If you use service software at all, it’s horrible. It’s illegible. You can’t even find the total. You wonder whether that’s on purpose. It was really important to develop new software, and I was really inspired by this idea of doing everything online because that’s the way the trend is going. And now our shop is entirely paper-free.

Is there anything else that you are doing in the online space (marketing, other communities) that is helping your business?

There are several aspects of our business: one is green, one is automotive, one is being woman-owned. Each of those entails a certain network, so I have my colleagues who I talk to about where to buy parts, or I have my colleagues on how to green my business better, or what are the opportunities and challenges of being woman owned. The best way to advance, or to benefit from other people’s expertise is, obviously, to talk to them directly or in online communities.

I’ve found the Visa Business Network to be extremely helpful, and there are so many networks out there. I’ve found that for my business, the more places that I’m online, the more that I’m connected online, the more people find out about me, and the more I find out about others. It’s good for business.

Visa is a sponsor of The Women’s Conference.

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