Startup Auto-Repair Shop Seeks to Give Charities a Lift

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There’s more to paying for a repair and oil change at Crooked River Garage in Akron, Ohio, than handing over your credit card or a handful of cash.

You also get to send a portion of the bill — 10 percent — to a local charitable organization.

Owner Jon Dresser said a top goal is to improve people’s perceptions of automotive repair shops. The business slogan is, “We’re not just a shop, we’re a movement.”

Dresser officially opened Crooked River Garage on April 27 at Suite G in the Chapel Hill Business Center, 891 Moe Drive.

“We are very, very new,” Dresser said. “We have big plans for this little company.”

He’s a self-described car-loving gearhead who likes to wrench — he is an ASE-certified mechanic, meaning he needed to pass a comprehensive test and have on-the-job training. He also has years under his belt in the service industry as a general manager for four local Five Guys burger restaurants.

“I really fell in love with running every aspect of business,” said Dresser, who is 24 and studied mechanical engineering at the University of Akron.

Dresser said he wanted to start his own business that reflects his beliefs and upbringing (he’s also an Eagle Scout). The shop is a place where people will be treated “as an interaction, not a transaction,” he said.

“I knew I wanted to do something different,” he said. “I knew that I wanted to give back.”

That’s where Crooked River Garage’s business model differs from most repair shops — a portion of each bill (with one exception) goes to a local charity.

The customer gets to pick from a list. For instance, when someone pays for a $26 oil change, $2.60 of the bill can be earmarked to a local organization, including the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank, Akron Children’s Hospital and Paws and Prayers pet rescue.

“We’re here to serve the community. We’re not here to take advantage,” Dresser said. “We don’t do coupons. We don’t do 50-percent-off brake sales. If we did that, then we were overcharging in the first place. The last question I ask is where would they like their money to go.”

The one exception to charitable giving is when Dresser needs to send a customer to a nearby shop he partnered with for a repair or service that his one-bay garage can’t yet manage. Dresser said he handles all vehicle makes and models, does sophisticated electronic diagnostics and can perform a lot of maintenance and repairs. But he doesn’t do body work, exhaust or transmission work.

“We can handle most general work,” Dresser said.

For now, Crooked River Garage is a one-person operation — just Dresser. But his plans call for hiring employees and eventually opening other shops.

He created Crooked River Garage LLC in the summer of 2014 and on March 31 signed a lease for space at the Chapel Hill Business Center. He said it took 16-hour days over 26 days straight to turn what had been empty space into his shop.

The front waiting area includes a flat screen TV and a charging station for electronic devices. His wife, Jennifer, decorated one wall with wood recycled from pallets. Customers have a clear view of the work bay.

Dresser said he took on very little debt to open the business. “I was able to finance most of it myself,” he said.

He’s getting notice out on his new business through word-of-mouth, as well as social media, including Facebook, and by helping local schools, churches and other organizations with fundraisers.

The safeguard that ensures customer donations reach their targets is the public nature of the transactions, Dresser said. The organizations who partnered with Crooked River Garage will very publicly acknowledge if they were not receiving funds, he said.

Customers who know Dresser say they have been happy with work the performed and like the idea of part of the bill going to a good cause.

Glenn Lowe, a Tallmadge resident and truck driver for YRC Worldwide, met Dresser through his son and stepsons. He’s taken vehicles to Crooked River Garage for oil changes and other work.

“We decided to send some business his way,” Lowe said. “He is personable and likeable and knows his stuff.”

Lowe said he didn’t know about the charitable donations until he first went to the garage.

“I thought it was a good idea,” he said. “I like to see that kind of ambition and thinking.”

Crystal Green, shared services manager for 17 Five Guys casual restaurants in Northeast Ohio, first met Dresser several years ago through the local franchise operation. She’s taken her vehicle to Crooked River Garage for an oil change.

“He worked very hard to become a general manager for Five Guys,” she said. As she got to know Dresser better, she found he wanted to own and run his own business.

“He devoted the right things to it,” she said. “He asked a lot of questions, and the right questions. I was so happy to see the store open.”

Green said she likes the idea of part of the bill going to charity.

“That’s neat,” she said.

Five Guys and other larger companies often cultivate a culture of volunteerism, she said. Employees at Five Guys, including Dresser, have done volunteer work at the food bank, Green said.

Green said she has mentored Dresser and warned him that startups often struggle in their first year.

“He’s doing things right,” she said. Dresser has done his homework, she said.

“And he’s got a lot of supporters,” Green said. “I hope it’s a success for him. He has the vision and the dream.”

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