From driveway to downtown
Kansas City, Mo.—Although he might often ride inches off the ground in his LS-powered ’54 Chevy two-door sedan, Pat Cox, owner of KC AutoWorX, knows that automotive repair is not usually a fun expense. It’s one for which most people don’t budget, and worse, some may have had bad previous experiences and fear being taken advantage of.
“But they come here, and we try to get them to see that we’re super-passionate and they’re in the right spot,” he said.
Visitors to the shop, at 505 Southwest Boulevard in the heart of the historic Crossroads Arts District, are welcomed with a cozy waiting area that includes comfortable leather couches and chairs, complimentary cold drinks, and vintage automotive décor. A walk to the restroom, located in a corner of the tidy shop, allows anyone who enjoys classic cars to see some being worked on, such as a ’60s aqua Amphicar or a Falcon “woody” station wagon there during Parts & People’s visit. Mixed with the wall graffiti he commissioned, it’s a deliberate effort to avoid the cold, sterile feel of many chains and dealership service departments.
“I wanted a very urban, hip feel,” Cox said. “I want our technicians and customers to feel cool when they come here. Nobody wants to go to ‘Corporateville.’ We’re in downtown, and people don’t want the corporate feel. That’s why they come to us.”
Although the shop offers complimentary pickup and drop-offs, many of the shop’s clientele — 80 percent of whom are women — are within walking distance of their home or place of work, which may be one of the neighborhood offices, art galleries, craft breweries, restaurants, and stores.
Cox mostly turns wrenches with the shop’s three technicians, while his business partner, Service Manager Brett Ingram, manages operations. The shop rate of $100 is less than dealerships, though more than some independents, Cox realizes. “But that’s part of it. We want to do better, and the only way is if we get paid to do it.”
It’s tough for one person to excel at both being a technician and handling customers, Cox said, which is why he thinks some other shops he’s visited are often off-putting in being harsh in delivering bad news about needed repairs.
“If it’s broken, we’re going to tell you it’s broken. Would we like you to fix it? Yes, we would, but we’re not the kind of place where Brett is instilling fear in you that ‘If you have your kids in here, you might die, because your power steering has some seepage.’”
At the start of the new year, Cox hired his cousin, Parker Johnson, to split his time between wrenching on fleet vehicles and visiting fleet clients and prospects, showing them short videos he’s produced “so people understand what we do.” He also plans to allow customers to book appointments on the website and to buy the shop’s merchandise, such as hoodies and ball caps.
Driveway repairs led to multiple
expansions a decade later
Without a formal education in business or automotive repair, Cox, 35, credits his passion and determination for his success. He started working on cars at 16, but only made it his vocation about 10 years ago, when he began working outside in his mother’s driveway. Drawn to him by his Craigslist ad promising low prices, customers returned satisfied with the quality of the repairs he’d performed.
“I was doing brakes (labor) for 25 bucks a wheel. “That’s what I advertised, and what got me started, but I was doing whatever I could get my hands on, outside with no lift and trying to be as professional as I could.”
In a Craigslist ad listed under “storage,” he found his first legitimate shop, at 56th and Troost. For a couple years, it would be home to not only his business, but also his residence, for a brief period. The new digs were “a fun place to hang out,” he said, with skate ramps and a trampoline, and it also sometimes hosted Metal concerts. The fun activities helped attract new customers as he added tools and equipment to increase the shop’s capabilities.
“I knew I wanted a full-service shop, but I was so busy having fun,” he said. Cox and crew are still having fun since the move almost eight years ago to Southwest Boulevard, although with more overhead and a higher payroll, he’s stepped up his game. Two years ago, he took over the adjacent space, doubling it to about 6,000 square foot. At that time, he added Challenger lifts from NAPA, tire-and wheel-service equipment and a Hunter HawkEye alignment machine from Mike Abernathey of Automotive Equipment Solutions.
“Having an alignment rack bumps everything,” he said. Demand for that work means it’s increasingly clear to him that custom work should be done at a remote location with lower overhead for select clientele.
“It’s time-consuming, and there’s no money in it,” he said, eying a ’61 Cadillac in the corner, which is in the shop for sheet metal and chassis fabrication and installation of a Whipple-supercharged 454 LSx. “With the overhead here, it doesn’t make sense for that car to sit for $200 a month when that rack could be making $2,000 a day. “But it’s what I enjoy, it’s flashy, and people enjoy it.”