FAIRFIELD — Jim and Valerie Inglebright sat chatting in a tastefully decorated office at American Autobody Specialist.
The appointments aren’t just for the owners’ benefit. Customers walking into the main entrance of the business are greeted by a bright, airy area, complete with nice furniture and a large, clean fish tank and television.
If you have to wait and then fork out some money for body work, you might as well be comfortable.
Caring for the customer, caring for the community and paying it forward is paramount for the couple, who were childhood sweethearts and graduated from Armijo High School.
“I like to focus on my customers,” Jim Inglebright said. “My customers are my neighbors. I don’t want to go (out) to dinner and see someone who has had a bad experience.”
With four sons, Greg Coleman said he’s had a lot of cars that have needed auto body work over the years.
“It’s like we had a fleet of cars for a while with everyone driving . . . and we had an extra vehicle,” Coleman said.
Coleman said he’s trusted the Inglebrights “100 percent to be honest, to be up front . . . I never felt that I had to be involved in the transaction. They took as good of care of my wife and children as they did me.”
The family business actually started with an old tow truck with a blown motor that Jim Inglebright bought when he was 18. That morphed into Roadrunner Towing in October 1980, which was then located on Peabody Road. When the Walters Court property was bought, they moved the tow company and added American Auto Body Specialists 10 years ago.
The idea of the auto body shop seemed like a natural progression to the tow business but, Jim Inglebright said, they had no knowledge of that business.
“Zero,” said his wife, for emphasis, laughing.
That didn’t stop them.
“We’ve never backed down from a challenge,” Jim Inglebright said.
Today they employ 43 people – both Inglebrights said they have great employees between the two businesses, some who have been with them for 20 to 25 years.
Both Inglebrights attribute the success of their business to hand work. Some of the success came from initially making wrong decisions, said Jim Inglebright, who emphasized that his formal education stopped after high school.
“I can’t say I’ve always made good (business) decisions,” he said. “I’ve made decisions that have lost us a lot of money and I’ve made some that have earned us a lot of money.”
In today’s economy, Jim Inglebright said it’s a month-by-month endeavor for them and causes some sleepless nights worrying about business. Rather than the recession hurting them, their biggest losses are to “big-box stores” of the auto body world – the multiple-store owners who have relocated into the area and taken a portion of their market share. It has, however, given them the opportunity to look at establishing new revenue streams.
“You can’t be afraid to change with the time,” Valerie Inglebright said.
One of the attributes the Inglebrights said that keeps them successful is their persistence. In addition, they also said that “circling yourself with good people” adds to the success.
“That’s another key,” Valerie Inglebright said. “We certainly don’t know it all.”
As for the future, thoughts of opening an automotive repair shop to complement the two existing businesses is something they’ve batted around. Nothing concrete, however. Jim Inglebright said his biggest concern is the lack of mechanics these days – “no one wants to work with their hands anymore,” he said.
In the meantime, Valerie Inglebright said they keep their “nose to the grindstone” and keep adapting in order to help the area’s residents.
“This is our community,” she said.
Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swinlowdr.