“We have become so well known for our billboards that I often joke that people probably forget that we actually repair vehicles. I say this because when people meet me or Julie, they often say, ‘Oh yeah, you guys are the billboard people,” Brad notes.
“Our community involvement serves as another huge form of positive exposure for our business.”
Coinciding with a vigorous pattern of charitable contributions is the shop’s “Doenation” program. Each year from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, 5 percent of every deer hit repair ticket – up to $250 – is directed toward a worthy organization.
In 2016 the campaign generated $10,000 for Contact Ministries, a women’s homeless shelter that Zara’s has been involved with for a number of years. The 2017 charity of choice is Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Illinois Capital Region, of which Brad currently serves as president of the organization’s board. As of early November nearly $3,000 had been raised, “turning a negative into a positive” for drivers having to spend bucks after colliding with a buck.
Brad and Julie both express gratitude for the many mentors that have guided them along the path to achieving business and personal success, including industry stalwarts such as Dick Taylor, Bill Ebert, Butch Elzea and Mike Rose.
While obtaining class valedictorian honors in high school Brad caused a bit of consternation with his guidance counselor upon deciding to pursue a trade involving his passion for cars rather than heading off to college. Brad’s parents were supportive, however, and he enrolled in a cooperative auto repair educational track that had him working part-time at Dick Taylor Collision Services, gaining full-time status after graduation.
“Dick’s was a Mom & Pop shop that had established a quality reputation and was just beginning a growth mode. I was fortunate to get the opportunity to learn from some of the best technicians to develop my technical skills. None of the techs wanted to learn any of the administrative duties that Dick needed help with. I was a sponge, wanting to learn anything, so I got the opportunity to learn estimating, parts ordering, production management and more at a very early age,” Brad recounts.
After marrying Julie, Brad contemplated going to college in pursuit of a degree in landscape architecture, another field of interest. He put in his notice to Dick Taylor, who encouraged him to remain on the payroll until the college classes were to commence.
Yet Dick’s business success had recently propelled him into opening a new and improved larger location, leaving his old building vacant – and available at reasonable rent. And at that point Brad and Julie decided that owning a body shop was what they wanted to do:
“Dick was also kind enough to let me continue working for him up until the day that I was ready to open my shop. I left his place on a Friday night and opened my shop on Monday morning.”