Business owners prove success runs in the family at Cookeville salvage yard
For Leonardo Vazquez, owning an automotive repair company was always the dream. From the age of 12, he’d learned the ropes of automotive body work, and became a master by 15. Working from a home-based garage in Mexico, Leonardo learned that as an entrepreneur he could do more for his growing family.
“From Mexico, we moved to California where I worked as a body repair tech for a shop,” says Leonardo. “The cost of living in California is expensive. With 5 daughters, my wife, and my mother to care for, we needed a change.”
Cranking up and heading out
After much convincing from his mom, Leonardo moved the family to Cookeville, Tennessee where he got a job working for the local meat-processing plant. It wasn’t long, however, before he was doing bodywork in the mornings before his afternoon shift to save up the money to once again start his own business. After a vacation to Mexico, Leonardo thought hard about his options. He looked at the money that he’d been saving over the years and quit as soon as he got home. It was time to dedicate himself to his first love: cars.
Despite having the money to start the shop, he knew it wouldn’t be an easy task. “You can only accomplish things if you’re willing to take a risk,” says Leonardo. He used the money he’d saved to buy his family a house, and started doing bodywork from the garage.
Taking off in a new lane
After a few failed attempts to expand his business, Leonardo felt discouraged. Banks refused his requests for loans, and he began to consider retiring. But then a family member came to him with a proposition.
Edgar Vazquez, Leonardo’s nephew, had been working at a large local junkyard for six years. When Edgar got word that the owner would be selling the business, he saw it as the perfect opportunity to start a family-owned business and persuaded his uncle to buy-in. The two became partners and purchased Aenon Auto Recycling & Parts in 2015. “I dreamed about having a big job, but never thought it could be working with my uncle on cars,” says Edgar.
Breaking down the finances
Edgar never imagined that he’d be part-owner of the place where he was once an employee, but with the help of his uncle, they completely transformed the business. “We cleaned up the area, and started to add more and more to the company,” says Edgar. “It was a junk yard, now we call it a salvage yard since it is so well organized. We’re a one-stop-shop, including parts, tires, mechanical work, and bodywork all in one place.”
But even with all of the changes, the new business partners had to pump brakes to figure out where to get the money to keep expanding. With limited access to capital, the owners struggled to grow for an entire year. But Leonardo refused to be discouraged.
That’s when the previous owner put them in touch with Pathway Lending.
“When I got the call that we’d been accepted for the loan from Pathway, we were excited. We couldn’t believe it,” says Edgar. “It was like a big rock had been lifted off our backs.”
By this time Edgar and Leonardo had added another family member to the business to help with accounting and bookkeeping– Leonardo’s daughter, Miriam Vasquez-Herrera.
As an SBA-approved lender, Pathway Lending provided Aenon Auto Parts with an SBA microloan and paired them with one of their business advisors to help them strengthen their business practices. Working with Business Advisory Services Consultant Phylicia Moye, gave Miriam the skills and confidence she needed to take more control over the accounting side of Aenon.
“It was overwhelming at first, but Phylicia made it seem doable. She came all the way from Nashville to help me use QuickBooks,” says Miriam. “She sat with me and guided me through. Once I figured it out, she would sit with me and watch what I was doing to make sure I was doing it right. She helped me a lot!”
While they still retain a CPA to do their monthly filing, all of their accounting is now done in-house by Miriam.
“Miriam is the heart of the company. Without her, we wouldn’t be here,” says Edgar. “With Pathway’s help, she does the paperwork, maintains the books, and has incorporated new systems like moving us from Excel to QuickBooks. She’s just amazing.”
Buckling up for a long ride
Both partners pride themselves on giving the best customer service to set themselves apart from everyone else. “I’ve learned a lot from Leonardo,” says Edgar. “With him it’s not just about money, it’s about customer service.”
Staying connected with customers through social media and following up with service reviews has helped the automotive company expand their clientele like no other business in the area, and they have clients come from all over the state to work with them.
The one-stop-shop not only purchases older cars and resells the parts to consumers in the market area, they also offer body work services, mechanical work, and have added a dealership since they started working with Pathway Lending. Leonardo even wants to add a food truck to enhance their customer service experience. The customers are what drive Aenon toward success, but the family bond is what holds the company together.
“I’ve learned a lot, but it all comes down to family,” says Edgar. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a million dollar company, or if we lose it for some reason; it would’ve been a great experience. My wife, my kids, his wife, his kids, you know, at the end that’s what it’s all about. Family is the key to success.”
Aenon Auto Recycling & Parts, Inc. continues to soar as a minority-owned business in Cookeville, and is the only Spanish-speaking automotive used part dealer in the area. However, succeeding as a family-owned business is their biggest accomplishment.
“Aenon is one of the best junkyards in Cookeville, but in five years, it’s going to be better,” says Leonardo. “If Pathway hadn’t given us the opportunity they did, we wouldn’t be here. Pathway Lending is my best friend.”
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