April 10, 2008
Featured in: The Gazette
“You just can’t lean back,” says owner of Lanham, MD auto repair shop
by Ryan McDermott, staff writer
When Timothy Proctor started in the auto business, he was pulling parts at a small Volkswagen dealership. Now, 28 years later, he owns Proctor Auto, a repair shop and carwash in Lanham, MD. Through it all, he has preached the gospel of persistence.
“I’ve been out here a while and made a lot of mistakes,” Proctor said. “But each time you get more and more focused.”
One mistake Proctor says he didn’t make was working with FSC First, a nonprofit that helps small business owners in Prince George’s County, to secure a $3 million loan to open his shop in October.
“It works,” he said. “Without their support this wouldn’t have happened. There is a way out there to get the money to start a small business; you just have to learn how to get it.”
From the start, Proctor was thinking ahead. While selling parts at the Volkswagen dealership, he would come out to the technician area and watch the mechanics closely.
From there he moved on to the parts department at a private shop that dealt with European cars, where he kept watching the mechanics and got his hands dirty doing it himself a bit. After a few years he figured he could do it himself.
So in 1984, he rented a small space with a partner on Old Alexandria Ferry Road in Clinton, MD and started fixing cars. As the business grew, Proctor decided he wanted to move from just Volkswagens to higher-end European brands.
Proctor opened his first shop in Forestville in 1987 and then moved to an empty gas station in Temple Hills, MD that had two repair bays.
“It was just me and my wife,” Proctor said of the struggling shop, which closed.
He worked in auto repair in Michigan, then moved back to Prince George’s County, doing side jobs to save for his own shop.
In 2000 he found a boarded-up space with three bays on Martin Luther King Jr. Highway in Lanham, MD. He made the owner an offer.
“I said, ‘Give me two years and I’ll buy this place from you,'” Proctor said.
The owner agreed. Proctor painted the shop, installed new windows and doors, and made other investments.
And just two days before the two-year anniversary of the agreement, Proctor had generated enough capital to get a loan to buy the shop.
Understanding the Climate
He turned to FSC First, then called the Prince George’s Financial Services Corp. Proctor utilized both a 7(a) loan – for working capital, equipment and the like – and a 504 loan, which is generally used to buy property.
He stayed at the shop for seven years before deciding last year that he was ready for bigger quarters. So this time he utilized FSC First to get the $3 million loan to buy his shop on Annapolis Road in Lanham, MD.
Shelly M. Gross-Wade, director of FSC First, said the nonprofit is unique because it offers more than just a place to get a loan.
“We understand the economic climate in Prince George’s,” she said. Since we are familiar with the area, we can provide a holistic approach.”
FSC First teaches small-business owners how to grow their business, Gross-Wade said, helping them find the best area to set up a business and judge its viability.
The organization has 15 banking partners that contribute almost $6 million total in loans. FSC has a $1 million annual operating budget.
Last year FSC First helped secure 12 loans and counseled 180 small-business owners, according to Gross-Wade.
Kwasi Holman, director of the Prince George’s Economic Development Corp., said that an organization such as FSC First is important to the success of Prince George’s small businesses.
“They provide much of the technical assistance to teach small-business owners how to be successful,” Holman said.
But even with the help of FSC, not much can be done about a slow economy. Proctor said his business has been affected by the downturn, but that he still has high hopes for his new shop’s first year. Most of his revenues, which he declined to disclose, come from his repair work, not the attached carwash.
On top of the slumping economy, winter is generally slow for auto repair shops, he said. That means many of his customers are moving away from full services and are buying only the essentials, such as oil changes.
“People are very picky about their services,” he said. “Someone who would normally spend $1,000 is now spending $500.”
But Proctor said that the better neighborhood – the new shop is in a safer area with more parking and amenities, he said – plus his state-of-the-art technology make him believe that the new shop will be successful.
With eight employees, five lifts, a service area, a parts department and a conference room, the new shop is like nothing he has ever had, he said.
But he’s not taking anything for granted.
“I’ve always been determined to lean forward,” Proctor said. “You just can’t lean back.”