From a very young age, Kendall Riecken knew his career path would involve automobiles.
Having been obsessed with the auto industry since childhood, he spent years going to car shows, races, and drag strips—"anywhere and everywhere car-related,” he says.
While earning his trade school certification and a degree in Business Administration from Ivy Tech Community College in Fort Wayne, Riecken worked for other auto shops, mostly doing collision and restoration work. When he graduated and won a grant from Ivy Tech’s New Venture Competition in 2017, he began working to open his own auto customization and restoration shop Kendall Performance & Repair.
Riecken won a grant from Ivy Tech’s New Venture Competition in 2017.
Today, his business is busy—even during the pandemic—at 12130 N County Line Rd E. in Spencerville, but getting there was no easy journey.
Riecken says the first and perhaps most patience-testing step in his journey was constructing a facility for his work. And while the grant money provided him with some seed funding to get started, it also gave him a few key connections that continue to serve his business today.
One connection he’s utilized is a network of free small business mentors and resources in Northeast Indiana, known as SCORE NEI, which have been instrumental to Kendall Performance & Repair’s launch and growth.
“What’s so cool about it is that every SCORE mentor is a veteran of business,” Riecken says.
With a SCORE mentor’s support and encouragement, Riecken opened his business in 2018, and continues to do well during the pandemic, offering old-model car maintenance and classic restoration.
SCORE NEI sat down with Riecken to learn more about his journey as an entrepreneur, the challenges and opportunities he’s encountered along the way, and the role that mentorship plays in helping him navigate it all.
SN: Tell us about your work at Kendall Performance & Repair.
KR: We offer everything from detailing to collision repair. Currently, I have three full restoration projects going, where I’m tearing down old cars and completely redoing them; body, paint, rebuilding engines, and interior. With the restoration, I can take care of pretty much anything and everything. I also have an interior guy who’s going to be doing my interiors for me, as far as custom upholstery.
SN: Do you offer regular repairs and maintenance?
KR: On older cars, yes. I don’t get into the new cars with computers, simply because of the costs of keeping up with the programming.
SN: Ivy Tech’s New Venture Competition grant was instrumental to you starting your business. Tell us about that grant.
KR: JB Tool and Die and PROFED Credit Union are very big supporters of the grant. I had to present my business idea to a panel within Ivy Tech. They then selected three of us from seven applicants. Then we had a formal night with the competition. I gave a 15-minute speech on every aspect of my company, including how I was going to do it, my investment, where I was going to invest, all of the numbers, all of the marketing, and pretty much all facets of the startup. I wrote a full business plan, and the judges felt that I had the most likely opportunity to succeed, so I ended up winning.
SN: What was the next step?
KR: In September of 2017, I bought the property for the shop. We closed on it almost two years ago in 2018. I took possession shortly after the new year.
The shop was 40-by-60-feet to start with and had a dirt floor. There were mice and critters, and the eaves were open. It was a 4-H Barn for animals. We had a lot of work to do. We did about 80 percent of it ourselves, my dad and I, and completed it last September.
Throughout the project, I had started taking on projects as areas would get done. I was able to take on detailing jobs and stuff like that to start generating some revenue. Then, just over a month ago, I was able to quit my day job and start doing this full time.
SN: What was it like starting your business from scratch? What kind of struggles did you face, and what were some of the victories?
KR: Well, no matter what you’re doing, it’s money and time. I would come home from my day job at four or five o’clock, then we’d come out here and run the electrical wire. We did that for a month straight last winter. It was like that every single night, in the cold. We would work until 9 p.m., 10 p.m., sometimes 11 p.m. at night. Then I’d get up the next day, leave for work about 6-6:30 a.m., and do it all over again.
On the weekends, we would work 12 or 14 hours, both days. The physical demand was probably the biggest struggle. And money’s always tight no matter what you’re doing.
SN: During a global pandemic, that’s more true now than ever. How has the quarantine and economic slowdown affected your business?
KR: My company has slowed, but it’s by no means slow. I have those three full restorations going. So when the virus hit, and we all closed our doors, I’ve still been able to work 40-50 hours a week.
The biggest change is that my quick-turn projects, such as detailing or small body and paint jobs, have diminished. Those are quick money makers. Restorations help to fill the gaps. Now I have been doing restoration work 95 percent of the time.
SN: What are some ways you’ve had to adapt since closing your doors to new work?
KR: When the virus came out, I was slower because of the winter season. When the quarantine rumor hit, I started stocking up supplies. That’s about it.
I don’t see much foot traffic through my doors each week, so I’m not too concerned with people coming and going. I actually have less distraction. And with there not being much to do outside of work, I have been working longer hours and getting more accomplished.
It may sound weird, but I don't completely mind this quarantine.
SN: Sounds like you’ve always been well prepared and business continues going great. Are you using this time to grow your business in any way?
KR: Yes. I haven't even needed to ask (my SCORE mentor) for advice because I am so busy. And with spring here, I expect detailing to pick back up. I'll be slammed in another few weeks. But I have been checking interest rates and have been considering taking out a loan to expand my building.
SN: Speaking of SCORE, how did you learn about them when you first started your company?
KR: I got an email from somebody at Ivy Tech. They gave me a quick synopsis of SCORE and told me that they would be available to mentor me through the competition. That started it. I got a call from (my SCORE mentor) Billy Mitchell, who said, “I want to help you win this thing, and I’ll do everything I can to help you.” It was like, “Okay. I guess I better get my butt moving.” (laughs)
After I hung up the phone, I felt like I had smoke coming out of my ears from all the info and knowledge he shared. It was pretty tremendous. It was a big motivation to have somebody on board. When you’re by yourself, if you fail, you’re the only person it affects. But when you have all the help in the world, if you fail, you’re letting down a lot more people.
SN: How was your mentor able to help you, and what is some of his advice that you’re putting into practice?
KR: Billy helped me with developing and growing the business plan. He helped me fine-tune the plan and make it realistic. He also helped me understand the numbers behind things.
He’s helped me understand a lot of the technical side of the business, cash-flow statements probably being the most significant single piece. Billy was able to help me fine-tune it all from the very beginning.
SN: Do you still interact with Billy?
KR: Yes. I call him, and he calls me every once in a while. We check on each other more or less. I actually did one of his cars for him.
SN: What advice would you give a new entrepreneur in these uncertain economic times?
KR: Right now is a very odd time to be in any industry. The trades are still booming regardless because everyone still needs their plumbers, truck drivers, and mechanics. I feel very fortunate to have made the career choices I have made. People are still spending money like crazy; it's just a matter of studying the demographics and seeing where the money can be made.
For anyone else that is stuck at home, now is the perfect time to lay out any business ideas and start fine tune everything. When will you have more free time than right now? Start saving every penny and every nickel.
But above all, stay safe and stay healthy.
This article was originally written for SCORE NEI and adapted for Input Fort Wayne. The article was also funded in-part through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, and/or recommendations expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.