Caleb Kempenar (left) has bought SK Mechanic from his uncle, Steve Kempenar. Service Manager Mark Waller (right) is one expert he will rely on to ease the transition.Steve Kempenar, who founded SK Mechanic in 1992, has sold his business to his nephew, Caleb Kempenar.Technician Brett Spruytte sets up an alignment head using SK Mechanic’s Hofmann alignment machine after completing a steering repair.Technician Brett Spruytte sets up an alignment head using SK Mechanic’s Hofmann alignment machine after completing a steering repair.The CNC-plasma table can quickly cut out parts such as brackets and mounting tabs. Fabrication for race cars is one service Caleb Kempenar plans to offer more of.SK Mechanic Owner Caleb Kempenar plans to do more fabrication work in the future, such as TIG-welding exhaust pipes for turbo kits.

Nephew takes the reins of NAPA AutoCare shop

Caleb Kempenar, 26, buys SK Mechanic, founded by Steve Kempenar in 1992, with customer loyalty in mind

Olathe, Kan.—As a technician in several automotive repair and specialty shops, Caleb Kempenar knew early on that he wanted to someday own a shop. And as of this writing, “someday” will be July 1, when Kempenar, 26, takes the keys to SK Mechanic, the shop founded in 1992 by his uncle, Steve Kempenar, at age 25.

Knowing a couple of years ago that his nephew wanted to own a shop, and looking ahead to his own retirement, Steve Kempenar proposed that he work in the shop to see how he liked it, with the possibility of buying the business.

“Originally, when I talked to Steve, he said it would be maybe five years or so,” Kempenar said. “But I came in and worked super hard, and he said, ‘You know? I think you’re ready.’ This was maybe six months ago, so we just started planning everything out.”

The younger Kempenar won’t be diving in without a support system, with consultation available from his uncle and Service Manager Mark Waller, and training planned through NAPA Auto Parts, of which the shop is a member of its AutoCare program.

“They have annual or bi-annual management or ownership courses where you get together with other shop owners in the area and discuss strategies, tactics, and procedures that are working for them,” Waller said. “I think that’s unique from other suppliers; they want to see you be successful, too, rather than just sell you parts.”

The shop joined the AutoCare program about a year ago, Waller said.

“All suppliers have a commercial plan they offer their customers, and we just felt that NAPA had the better overall package: quality parts, timely deliveries, they go the extra mile with knowledgeable people, and with the two-year, 24,000-mile warranty program, they stand behind their products,” he said.

Waller also pointed to the training he and Steve Kempenar received through the Management Success! program in helping them run their business more efficiently and profitably, paying particular attention to systems and paperwork.

“Consistency is really the key,” he said. “You treat each customer the same, and you make sure you give the customer an accurate evaluation of their car every time they come in.”

Waller said it’s important to document needed service, such as brake pad wear that will soon need attention, so that those needs can be addressed in a future visit. Then a reminder can be scheduled using the Mitchell 1 Manager SE program to send a postcard or email reminder. And when the customer returns in three months or six months for an oil change, the brake pad evaluation will also be printed on the work order as a reminder.

 “I’ve worked for other shops, and I’ve found it unique that this shop has a very loyal customer base,” Waller said. “Steve had 25 years of treating people fairly and honestly, and now we’re seeing their kids’ and grandkids’ cars, which you don’t see a lot of that going on in other shops.”

Word-of-mouth and Google reviews have been responsible for new business to replace the predictable attrition as customers buy new cars or pass away, Waller said.

“So many times, other shops care only about the car that’s in there, getting as much for the repair as they possibly can, and they don’t care if that customer comes back,” Waller said. “We’re kind of the opposite. We give the customer the true picture of the situation with their automobile and give them options and they make the decisions instead of beating them over the head while they sit in the lobby to do things they’re not comfortable doing.”

Building upon the momentum that his uncle started and continuing as a family-owned business is Kempenar’s goal, he said, and as he establishes the business, he’d like to expand into what he enjoys, fabrication of turbo plumbing and chassis, skills he’s employed on his 1,000 rear-wheel HP 1987 Camaro, which he’s nicknamed “The Mullet Bullet” and which has a large following on social media.

As the time draws nearer for him to take the reins, he and Waller have stayed an hour or two beyond closing to discuss the business.

“I’ve had a couple of businesses, so I know how stressful it can be, and I’m just trying to keep him chilled out in that process,” Waller said with a smile. “There is light at the end of the tunnel. What’s the reggae song? ‘Everything’s Gonna be Alright?’ But I think Caleb has a very good vision of what he wants to see this shop be, and I know he’s probably one of the more diligent and dedicated younger people that I’ve ever met. And when he sets his mind to something, it’s going to happen.”

Parts & People

Parts & People is published monthly by Automotive Counseling and Publishing Company, Inc., a Colorado corporation, P.O. Box 18731 Denver, CO 80203, 303-765-4664. President-Lance Buchner. Founded by Lance Buchner and Dave Lucia.

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