Rochester, NY – When Jeff Curts started AutoCrafting 30 years ago, he never imagined that he would one day own the largest Mobility Equipment Dealership in Rochester or that he would end up working with his son, Chris. Along with their daughter/sister Heather, AutoCrafting has the “perfect storm” for a success; Chris with his financial expertise and talent for taking risks, Jeff with his technical background in addition to 30 years of knowledge in the mobility industry and Heather’s medical/nursing background. AutoCrafting has now expanded to Syracuse and has its eyes set on Buffalo and beyond.
Success stories during a recession are rare. So, when a company has their best financial year and largest growth in the midst of the country’s biggest recession in decades, one can’t help but me amazed. But for AutoCrafting, amazement isn’t something they think about; taking the mobility industry by storm is. With a dedicated and talented staff, investment in state of the art computer infrastructure and robust vehicle inventory, AutoCrafting set themselves up for growth.
AutoCrafting today is vastly different than the AutoCrafting of the past three decades. In 1979, Jeff Curts started retrofitting police cars, fire trucks and he also welcomed his son Chris into the world. Jeff was, and still is, good with his hands. He also “pimped” out personal vehicles before the phrase became popular in the 90’s. All during this time Jeff also dabbled in adapting vehicles for wheelchair accessibility, including selling VMI wheelchair vans. AutoCrafting was the epitome of a custom shop, there isn’t anything they wouldn’t or couldn’t tackle. Jeff had 5-6 employees and they all enjoyed their work and made a decent living, but Jeff will be the first to admit that he didn’t know or care about salaries, benefits, etc., he just focused on running his own business and doing what he loved; working on cars and making people happy.
“In 2004, I had a very frank discussion with Jeff,” said Tim Barone, VMI’s Chief Financial Officer. “I explained to him that as much as I like Jeff as a person, the Rochester market was more than the 6-8 vans that AutoCrafting was buying from VMI annually. They needed to shake up their business or VMI would have to find another dealer to better serve Rochester. This really woke up Jeff and got him to start thinking more strategically.”
In 2005, Chris asked his father for a job. Jeff said, “No”. Jeff was still upset that Chris left high school at 16 years of age. Chris didn’t leave school because he was getting into trouble or because he was a bad kid; he was bored. He picked things up quicker than the other kids and didn’t see the benefit or organized education so he went out into the real world and was quite successful in the years when most people were in classrooms attaining degrees. Chris bought property, was the manager of a carpet store and was happy but he wanted more. Chris approached Jeff for a job at AutoCrafting and when he was turned down, he didn’t go away; instead he persisted and eventually wore Jeff down. At first, Jeff gave Chris menial tasks like cleaning the shop closet and filing that took months. He paid Chris next to nothing, hoping he would get bored and leave AutoCrafting. But Chris saw potential in AutoCrafting and kept at Jeff, giving him suggestions like: focusing on one thing vs. being so fragmented, getting inventory for people to look at, building a computer infrastructure, etc.
From 2006 to 2010 AutoCrafting has grown 600%. They went from selling 6-8 wheelchair vans each year in 2004 to stocking between 30-40 vans between their two stores in Rochester and Syracuse. They are a positive presence in their community, spreading awareness of the many options of mobility solutions and wheelchair vans. In early 2010, they moved from their 7,000 ft facility in Rochester to a larger, more functional building with over 15,000 ft on 5 acres that also gives them room for more growth and expansion; which they are planning.
Lately Autocrafting has been focusing more on strategic alliances, innovative marketing and advertising, better financing resources and new and exciting new programs to get their consumer’s behind the wheel. To quote Jeff “Many of us dinosaurs in the industry THINK have been there and done that. We feel we know the industry and how to get the job done. I am extremely fortunate to have someone like my son Chris to come in with a fresh prospective and the tools that many small business owners lack. Too many of us in the industry started as small one or two man shops and we never took or had the time to step outside the box and bring our businesses to the level they should be. Companies like VMI have been very helpful in changing the way we look at and do business but it really took fresh leadership in my case to make the amazing changes that we have experienced.”