When we moved to the USA in 1996 my kids were 4 and 6 and both in school. As local public schools did not want my 4 year old we found a private school for them, concerned they might fall behind as we were to return after 2 years to England. Move forward to the teenage years, with a year in public school in Florida, from where we quickly returned, the kids at 12 and 14 were put right back into the private school. (We did go back to England but 5 months later came back here.)
By this time my eldest son Lewis was having stomach issues and after 2 years had been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Located in his stomach, eating was a big problem. It was also a daily struggle with pain, especially when eating. Crohn’s disease stays in one spot, unlike Inflammatory Bowel Disease which tends to move all over the digestive system. The next few years were spent trying to get a reasonable amount of food in which was fast processed and sent out, so the nutrition received was very poor. We struggled through it for many years and it affected school work. During junior year his school work suffered which was a big annoyance because this kid was an A grade student, like a sponge! Math was way into college level, Algebra was a breeze for him. By the time we get to senior school has was barely attending 30% of the time. He drops out.
I persuade him to get his GED and enroll in college, and we got through 7 months before he says, I did all this stuff ( General Eds) in school, I am NOT doing it again. He drops out. So here I am with a 18 year old with no qualifications, he never did the GED although it was paid for, he just never went. His long childhood interest of building things turns into an interest in cars. And then starts the series of buying and fixing cars, selling them and starting again.
Our garage was constantly filled with cars stripped, motors on the floor, welding, performance parts and all things fast car. The garage was a mess. But he was intrigued. He hangs out with many friends who do the same and also some performance shops in Schaumburg and near there. Eventually he gets a job as a shop hand. His job, cleaning up, helping move cars, nothing exciting at all. He watches, he learns.
Then Came Motorcycles
Now we get into doing the same with those. And enter drag racing. A Mother’s worst nightmare. He buys a bike, he extends it for drag racing, he adds performance parts. Every dime he makes goes on anything auto. He starts racing, not a cheap pass-time and no I won’t go and watch my son race for a quarter mile at 200+mph. I am OK watching it on his videos, after the fact.
He is learning also how to fix bikes and gets another job in a motorcycle repair shop. The love affair with motorcycles takes over the love affair with cars. Being a light weight guy, because of the disease and lack of nutrition, he’s tall and slight. It helps him win races. Now he’s getting jobs racing for other bike owners, because he can win. Talk about doing what you love for a job and for fun. This is Lewis on his bike. That bike is a 1400 cc motor, weighs about 400lbs, more than 3 times his body weight!
Fast Forward To 2014
After many years of dealing with the chronic disease, constant pain, Doctors, Hospitals, low paying jobs and not a lot of money, we talked. Clearly self employment was the best option for someone with this kind of medical baggage. In late 2013 we all agreed, maybe owning his own shop ( his dream) needed to be fast tracked. So in early 2014 I put the money on the table and said, let’s get you in business! And Sixth Gear Performance LLC was born. We found a small shop in Schaumburg, located close to I-90 and Elgin O’Hare expressway made it an easy place to find and get to locally, but also out of state. He started from a position of nothing. He clearly now had the skills. All he needed was paying customers.
A quick shout out to the math mind here. His ability to understand Math makes his mind work mathematically to resolve issues, not just mechanically. I am not sure I get that, but I am not the math genius. He can think of a problem and start doing math to solve it. Apparently they marry together well.
He let’s all his friends know and slowly the motorcycle work starts to come in. Let it be said that his shop is in direct competition with another motorcycle shop just down the road and there are not that many motorcycles on the road. Come winter the work dies. But for his first year he has done very well. We shut up shop and re-open before spring. We also talk about adding cars because his network has grown and he’s asked by many if he can do cars. So while business is slack we invest in a car lift and have that installed before he opens in 2015.
In House Car Repairs
The upside to the lift now is all our car repairs can go to our shop! My husband is a great mechanic too, it’s not his job but a hobby and he’s perfectly capable of doing most car things.
Spring arrives, my son gets back to the shop and the work begins to flow. There’s still not much car work but he begins to outgrow the space. After less than 18 months we have to move. It took a while to locate the perfect spot. In all things real estate we settled for about 80% of what he needed. Actually I think we got about 90%. The space is double in size, plenty of room now to grow the car side of the business. The cost to move was not cheap. He had to clear all the work, and then move everything. He has a lot of tools and a lift needs to come down. Then he has to deal with all the permits and inspections for the new location, have Landlords resolve all issues. The lift has to be re-installed and we get another at the same time. Car lifts must be installed by the experts. They have to be aligned perfectly and they weigh about a ton each. With winter fast approaching he kept work light, meanwhile the overheads have just increased.
Move Complete and a Rethink on Clientele
My son has many friends in the industry and has made many connections with similar businesses in the burbs. For example we now use his recommended body shop in Schaumburg. He knows who’s good and who is not. It seems that motorcycle work will not fill this shop full time. He has just passed the second year and our accounts are showing we need to increase revenue, specifically billable labor hours, or as he calls it “wrench work”.
He brainstorms with close advisors, talks with a past employers, bounces ideas off me too.
Year Three – With a revised business plan he is keeping the motorcycle performance part and expanding to European performance cars. The thrill of all of this is making cars and bikes go faster. The wrench work includes performance but the maintenance is what keeps the business floating.
Most businesses need to be in year three before truly being profitable. There’s always a lot of start up costs and some trial and error expenses. I said at the beginning I would support it. Thank you to all those clients that bought houses with me, you are indirectly helping my son achieve his dream. Now in year three we are shooting for the sky! His business is growing. In year two he quadrupled his revenue from year one. If he does that again this year, he will be flying solo and employing at least one person.
His clientele is going off the charts. He needs one more car lift. Just this week he has 3 motorcycles at some stage of repair, he also has 6 cars in the shop, 2 more being delivered for work and has become an authorized dealer for a tuning company called Eurocharged. Good Lord there’s even a Lamborghini in the shop! It’s actually hard to keep up with the accounting which until this month was my job. It’s now been handed over to my younger son who graduated with a business management degree. He has the time while he decides what he wants to do.
My Kids are Not Your Kids
We all hear about kids going to college, graduation, getting a job, starting a career, getting engaged, married, having kids. It almost becomes expected. I have always told my sons to do what they want. We are lucky we can afford to support them. My son now owns a bustling performance auto shop and I look to the end of the year and see some of my capital investment actually coming back! It took him a while, he is coming up to 27, but he is now rising and shining. And to all his friends that thought he would fail, well he’s no big shot yet but at 27 owns his own business, is in profit and having the time of his life doing what he loves! Granted it’s no 40 hour a week job right now, he’s knocking on the door of 100 hours, with wrench work, rallying and networking it’s never ending. But the result will be wonderful both in success and personal gratification.
As for the younger son, he’s in the same situation. He did get his degree, which also was odd. He was the exact opposite of the other one. Not the brainiac at all. But he’s been able to help point out some business things to his brother, is keeping the books in order and helping me in my business too. He also does not want to work for anyone else. So as we explore possibilities for him I know he too, will rise and shine without any pressure to go to work and God forbid doing things he does not want to!
So my kids may not be typical, but really how many are. They are all different and will all rise and shine, just in their own way, not conforming to the norm. As Mother’s Day passes, I reflect and am proud.