Entrepreneurs Corner: Tewes has learned by doing

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Published: June 13,2010

Tags: Bob Tewes, Car Care Clinic, Entrepreneur's’ Corner

From that early page, Bob has never looked back, and has spent his entire life working to grow and expand Car Care Clinic to its current level.  From the initial “clean the toilets” assignments, he progressed to becoming a mechanic’s helper (age 15), then an assistant manager, and finally a store manager at age 21.  Photos by STEPHEN McDILL / Mississippi Business Journal

From that early page, Bob has never looked back, and has spent his entire life working to grow and expand Car Care Clinic to its current level. From the initial “clean the toilets” assignments, he progressed to becoming a mechanic’s helper (age 15), then an assistant manager, and finally a store manager at age 21. Photos by STEPHEN McDILL / Mississippi Business Journal

Driving force behind Car Care Clinic has always been a driven person

Like other entrepreneurs, Bob Tewes got his start early.  Beginning at the age of 13, he began working part-time in his father’s business in the automotive services business, and he has never looked back.

“My entrepreneurial education was to learn by doing,” he said in a recent conversation.  “I literally started on the bottom rung of the business and learned it from the ground up.  I’ve done just about every task it’s possible to do in this business.”

From that early page, Bob has never looked back, and has spent his entire life working to grow and expand Car Care Clinic to its current level.  From the initial “clean the toilets” assignments, he progressed to becoming a mechanic’s helper (age 15), then an assistant manager, and finally a store manager at age 21.

He proudly points to his achievement as a store manager.  “I grew the sales at my store by more than 500 percent in 12 years,” he said.

In 1990, his father had to have a heart transplant, and Bob found himself gradually running more and more of the business, finally taking it over several years later, and becoming exclusive owner in 2002.

“At the time, the business was doing well,” Bob said.  “We were one of the first quick oil change places in the state, and the concept really caught on.”

However, like most entrepreneurs, Bob wasn’t content to rest on the laurels of the company.  His goal was growth and expansion, and under his management, Car Care Clinic expanded to multiple locations, and today employees more than 110 people.

When asked how he financed the expansion, Bob explained that the company’s growth was “mostly self-funded, from our cash flow.  It’s never necessarily easy to get a big lump of capital from the banks, but we found ways to make it happen.”

One of the ways he points to is having great people to help. An old “high school buddy,” Brian Romine, joined him in the business early on, and today Bob points to Brian as something of his “right hand” in the management and operation of the business.

“As far as I’m concerned,” he said, “the most important part of running any business is having good people who care about what they’re doing.”

One of Bob’s firm rules is that any new employee who works for Car Care Clinic must be willing to do what he did….start at the bottom and learn the business from the ground up.  From his point of view, this creates an extremely effective “on the job training program,” and both he and Brian point to this as an excellent means of “separating the wheat from the chaff”…that is, finding and keeping good people.

“We like to grow people into management positions, rather than hire them,” he said.  “As a result, we have great people managing our businesses, and some have been with us a long time.  There’s nothing like loyal, caring employees.”

Bob Tewes says he “loves to go to work every day.”

“If you don’t do what you love to do, you should find something else to do,” he said.

Asked what the most important aspects of starting and managing businesses are from his perspective, he said, “You have to know your business, your competitors and your people.  You have to try and make things a little bit better every day, and be willing to make the changes necessary to stay on top of things.”

He says “change is the one constant” in business.  During his time managing Car Care Clinic, he’s seen many new competitors arise, including new car dealers who have gotten into the quick oil change business.  As a result, Car Care Clinic now offers other services and products.

He gives much credit for his start and success in the business to his father and uncle.

“They were great mentors,” he said.  “They knew their business and I was so blessed to have learned from them.  I also made it my practice to seek out other people I respected and learn from them through the years.  There’s no substitute for that kind of learning.”

As an entrepreneur, Bob says his key operating principles are “to give great service, do good work and be honest in your dealings with customers.  Without that, you’re not going to last very long in this or any other business.”

Like most entrepreneurs, Bob Tewes is an individual with a passion for what he does, and the idea of just “kicking back” and taking life easy is foreign to him.  As noted in a number of my discussions with successful entrepreneurs, the real thrill for an entrepreneurially-minded business owner seems to be in starting an enterprise and making it go.  Making money almost seems to be secondary to their goals.

“If you do things right, the profits will follow,” Bob says.  That certainly seems to be true for Bob and Car Care Clinic.

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