Those of us who have had their cars serviced at American Pride Automotive know that Charlie Marcotte takes great care of his customers, but it’s the extra mile that he goes for his community and beyond that really sets him apart from the rest.
Originally from northern New England, Charlie was raised by a single mother of four who would walk to work in sub-zero temperatures because her car would need repairs and she would be faced with the choice of paying to feed her family or paying to fix the car. Those memories inspired Charlie to use his talent for the good of others while still building his business and brand.
With locations in Yorktown, Williamsburg and Toano, American Pride Automotive is on a growth curve and Charlie hopes to open two more locations in the future, but it’s his initiative to help families in need that is his true motivation.
After opening his first location in Yorktown, Charlie was looking to open a second location in Williamsburg right after the recession hit, and he was faced with the challenge of introducing his company to a new area and getting the word out fast. He came up with the idea to open their doors to the community by bringing in single parents and veterans and offering them free auto repairs.
“Our everyday customers couldn’t stop talking about it,” Charlie says. “They would come in and say while they aren’t a single parent today, they were at some point in time and know what it is like to either put tires on the car or pay the rent. It was immediately apparent that this really resonated with our customer base.”
The response to the initiative was so powerful, Charlie knew he needed to figure out a way to make it even better. “This is a God given idea that I knew I had to do something with, or shame on me,” he says. “So, we decided to do it at our Yorktown location too and we gave it the name Family Service Day. It started off as one day a year, then we started doing it every three months and bouncing back and forth between the two locations. When we opened the doors to our Toano shop in 2012, we cut the ribbon on Family Service Day. It’s really become who we are. It’s become our brand.”
Since the success of Family Service Day, Charlie has made sure to promote who his company is rather than what his company does. He was encouraged to take the program national and help other repair shops do the same thing, and so he did.
Before hitting the road to spread his ingenious idea, Charlie enlisted the help of his sister, a public relations professional. “My sister and I, two kids from New Hampshire, hit the road and presented the program to some national companies and sponsors, and contracted with Advance Auto Parts to do the program nationally for three years.” In those years, they held events in 22 states giving away over a million dollars in repairs.
But the flaw in Charlie’s business model was that it required an awful lot from an individual repair shop. “They’re open all day on a day that they were normally closed so the technicians had to come in, they had to arrange it, and they had to essentially be marketing people, and these guys are not necessarily marketing gurus,” he explains. “They are really good technicians who have a business and so I knew we had to revise the program to give it life and longevity”
Charlie decided to rebrand Family Service Day to Transportation Matters, which is what it is today. “We have built a network of some of the very best repair shops who make a pledge to work in the benefit and the interest of the person who needs help, and in return the repair shops have the ability to show who they are and not just what they do. The Transportation Matters network is a resource for the nation’s public service agencies and non-profit organizations, allowing them to identify the most trusted shops in the nation. As a result of a business participating in the network, their businesses are doing well by doing good.
With so much of his focus being on Transportation Matters, Charlie was having less and less time to run his actual business. When he asked his three children if any of them might be interested in taking over the family business one day, his son Andrew stepped in and is now the general manager of all the locations.
“My ultimate goal is to free him up from the daily operations so that he can go chase these other big ideas that he has, as far as Transportation Matters and growing the business goes,” says Andrew.
Andrew was three years old when his dad started American Pride, so many of his childhood memories are of being in the shop and playing around with the technicians and hiding their tools. “I have very fond memories of the early stages and have seen it develop over the years,” he says. “When my dad was thinking to the future and wondering if he might need to prepare the business for sale, it just didn’t feel right to think of someone outside of our family running it. So that was a big catalyst to me deciding to move home and follow in his footsteps.”
A graduate of Virginia Military Institute, Andrew and his wife relocated back home to Williamsburg and have planted their roots in the same neighborhood where Charlie raised Andrew, Windsor Forest.
Andrew and Charlie agree that Williamsburg is the best place for their business and their family. “Williamsburg has all the tools to be successful,” says Charlie. “The town is full of a lot of very talented, successful people who are looking to volunteer and make an impact on their community. People who live here love it here and they’re totally here by choice. We have been to a lot of other towns and you can tell when people are just surviving there or living. And I think that people come here to live.”
Charlie and Andrew both strive to make their customer’s experience at American Pride to be the highlight of their day. “Our slogan is ‘Service with Integrity’, so we try to measure up to that every step of the way,” says Charlie.
Charlie says American Pride has some of the very best technicians in the area, and they do everything from state inspections to major engine repairs and transmissions. “But we’re truly in the service business,” he says. “We’re in the people business, we just happen to fix cars along the way. We love to have conversations, other than about the car. We want to know what they’re doing that weekend, things like that.”
As an untrained automotive technician, Charlie used what knowledge he had of fixing cars to launch a business, but his passion for marketing and thinking creatively allowed him to take it to the next level. “I like to have a big picture. I like to daydream. I think my lack of technical experience has allowed me to grow the business better.”
Charlie states the Automotive Repair Industry has a tremendous opportunity to have a dramatically positive effect in the lives of those needing a hand up. “The fact that we have boots on the ground and an opportunity to quickly offer support in an area of someone’s life that makes them vulnerable to failure (reliable transportation) is a huge opportunity. For these families – transportation matters”. Over the past decade American Pride has led by example through Family Service Day and now, Transportation Matters which has become a movement.
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