They say when you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. That adage certainly applies to 23-year-old Katie Inge, co-owner of Maaco Collision Repair and Auto Painting of Chesapeake, Va.
“It’s just something I love,” Inge told BodyShop Business. “It’s a passion I’ve always had. When I come to work, it doesn’t feel like work.”
Inge’s father, A.J., started the Chesapeake Maaco franchise in 1983, and Katie got involved at an early age. It didn’t take her long to get hooked.
“Seeing a car coming in all beat-up and rough-looking, paint peeling and fading, and then seeing what the guys could do within a short period of time to make it look like it was brand new, it was pretty amazing,” she said.
At first Inge helped out on weekends, and by the time she was in high school, she was sanding, taping and painting cars.
In 2015, Katie became a full partner with her father, who is easing into retirement after more than three decades in the business. Today, the Chesapeake franchise has 19 employees, servicing 60 to 70 vehicles per week.
The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard have a large presence in coastal Chesapeake, and Inge noted that many of her retail customers are military personnel. Wise – and mature – beyond her years, Inge politely answers questions with “Yes sir.”
Inge said she’s learned a lot from her father, but she’s found ways to put her own stamp on the business too – whether it’s investing in the latest paint gun or dent-repair tool, or promoting the franchise on Facebook and Instagram.
She also said she’s been a bit more aggressive on the business-development side, and lately she’s been working hard to pursue additional fleet customers for a truck booth that the franchise recently installed.
“Even if it’s just a few minutes after lunch, I’ll pop in somewhere and leave some business cards,” she said.
Learning Both Sides of the Business
Although Inge said she doesn’t mind getting dirty (“I love working in the back”), now that she’s managing the business, dealing with customers has become one of her favorite aspects of the job.
“I enjoy taking them through the shop, and then showing them the end result,” she said. “Seeing the smile on their face when they see how much [their car] changed from when they first dropped it off to when they picked it up is one of the best parts of my day.”
Inge added that her repair experience has helped her be a better manager and operator.
“Dealing with the customers, I know exactly what they’re expecting and looking for,” she said. “Then I can go back in the shop and make sure it gets done for them. Whatever we promise to the customer, we make sure we deliver it.”
In addition to her father’s mentoring and on-the-job training, Inge studied business management at a local community college. She said it’s been a huge plus to have that combination of repair experience and business acumen.
“Unfortunately, a lot of people get into situations where they might be good at dealing with customers and the financials, but then they don’t know the back side of the business, and that can really hurt them in the long run,” Inge said. “So I would definitely recommend that you learn both aspects [business and repair]. You don’t have to be perfect at both of them, but at least learn the basics.”
Wise words for a 23-year-old.