Growing up with a strong sense of value and commitment is one reason Ryan Schrader is succeeding as an entrepreneur. The foundation his parents set certainly played a key role in molding his work ethic. Yet his giving heart, which he says came from his mother, is what elevates Schrader above his competitors.
Schrader owns and operates Mariner Auto Repair in a building just south of Elgin Boulevard. Bright yellow paint with deep red accents is meant to stand out and attract attention. It also hints at the fact that this is not a typical auto repair shop.
That is exactly what Schrader was going for. He operates his business, purchased nearly two years ago, as an existing auto repair shop, with a kind of philosophy that is a few steps removed from the stereotypes that give the auto repair industry a bad rap.
“I hate salesmen,” Schrader said, which is why he works exceptionally hard at not being one.
His experience working in the auto repair field shed light on practices he refused to buy into. Encouragement to up-sell a customer rather than simply fix the issue at hand helped steer him clear of following that path.
Instead, when faced with the opportunity to start his own shop, he chose to listen to the solid advice of his mother.
“Be the kind of guy women can trust,” he quoted her. “Be someone their husbands can trust and the guy women can go to without feeling insecure.”
The message, he said, was clear. “And that’s what I’ve worked hard to become,” he said.
“I was looking at property at the time to build my own shop,” he explained. Friends advised him to look at Mariner Auto Repair, which was on the market. Schrader met with the previous owner and the two discussed working together as co-owners for a period of time to ensure both were comfortable with the change of ownership.
“I could, after six months, walk away,” Schrader said. “I walked into the ideal situation.”
During that six-month trial period, Schrader turned the business around. Because he had been working on cars from his home for years, he had already built a dedicated following of happy customers.
“They told a few friends who told a few friends,” he said.
He also had done extensive research before considering the path of owning his own shop, something his customers had pushed him to do for years. He had all his ducks in a row and was ready to take the plunge. The offer to try the existing shop was the ideal solution to test his ambition and ideas.
Celebrating two years in October, Schrader is reaching forward, making dramatic changes to the property, including adding some impressive landscaping that transformed Mariner Auto Repair into an eye-pleasing experience.
His hope is that customers will not only feel the difference in the service they receive, but from an atmosphere that strays a bit from a traditional auto shop.
“I want them to be happy to come here,” he said.
“My thing is efficiency,” Schrader said. “I want them in and out of here so they can get back on the road. And I want to know everything about the vehicle as fast as possible so we can get it done. And it had better be done right.”
It is important, he added, that customers be given the facts about their vehicle. They need to be aware of what’s going on, he said, so they can make informed decisions.
Schrader has been able to stay competitive with other shops by offering a menu of service items for most makes and models. He also keeps his prices lower than the industry standards, building strong relationships with parts suppliers.
Mariner Auto Repair hosted Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners and invited anyone who wanted to come. Still tweaking the events, he found he had more volunteers than guests.
He also organized a few benefits to raise money for worthy causes, including the Back Pack Foundation, where they raised money through a carnival to assist children in need.
“I don’t do it to increase my business,” Schrader said. In fact, he hasn’t gotten a single customer from the events that he knows of. And that’s OK, Schrader said. “I just want to give something back.”