Why Michigan shop owner Dick Zaagman says he chose ‘downward mobility’ in establishing his business and his life.
Community means a lot to Dick Zaagman, past, present and future, and it’s at the heart of his business: Community Automotive Inc. in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Zaagman has been involved with Community Automotive since it opened in 1975. With roots as a volunteer backyard mechanic repairing cars for members of his Christian Community, Dick joined with other Community members to begin the for-profit company in hopes of using the business to financially contribute to the group’s ministry and work in neighborhood programs. This opportunity dovetailed perfectly with his personal desire for a career in the automotive service industry.
“I was pretty sure way back in high school that I wanted to work on cars for a living,” Zaagman says. “Though it was my ‘dream’ to start this business, I had a lot of help from others in our Christian Community in my first 10 years of business. Many others, from the cleaning help to a more-experienced mentor/business partner, helped the business become established. After those first years, my partner and most of our team moved on to other pursuits, and I began hiring from outside our church community.”
Zaagman, with the help of his wife, Joyce, who describes herself as “the behind the scenes but not so silent partner,” began seeing the business’s steady growth that has resulted in a full-service shop that specializes in repairing European vehicles.
Why European models?
“The specialty began taking shape in the ’70s, when other local repair shops sent us the imports they couldn’t or didn’t want to service. I always had an interest in and appreciation for import vehicles and gladly took them on,” says Zaagman. “I really enjoy working on European cars. For many people, automobiles are simply their means of transportation. They use them to get from point A to point B. I find that those who buy import cars often do so for status and enjoyment because they fit their lifestyle or self-image. They’re willing to spend money on them, which is good for business.”
It proved to be a wise move for Community Automotive, which services a weekly average of 82 vehicles in 12 bays and is projected to have annual sales of $2.4 million. Zaagman is completing a $750,000 shop renovation and enhancing a reputation that already is well established. In a readers’ poll, consumers have voted Community Automotive among the “Best of Grand Rapids” for many years.
Zaagman’s operation reflects his philosophy of using his activities to serve a greater good. When it began as Community 76 (a Union Oil gas station with two bays), Zaagman and the other Christian Community members worked for minimum wage so that more money could be allocated to service in the low-income neighborhood where they chose to live. The business has continued to operate in the same location throughout its 40-year history.
“We continue to be committed to our neighborhood,” Zaagman says, summing up his charitable activities under a loosely defined umbrella, “Kindness Matters.” A portion of Community Automotive’s resources goes to support neighborhood organizations. In addition to providing free services to vehicles of a home-building charity for low-income residents, the Inner City Christian Federation, Community Automotive supports the Kids Food Basket and an after-school program for children at a nearby elementary school.
Running this thriving business is a full-time job for the high-energy 63-year-old. He still enjoys the challenge and the pace.
“I have no real desire to stop working,” Zaagman says. “I’m not a fisherman or boater, and I really don’t have any hobbies to take up my time. I enjoy being busy and working. But someday, I’ll have to cut back and let someone else take over.”
In the interim, he’s happy to build his business, enjoy his family and work on his prized vehicles: a beautifully customized Audi A4 with a 340 horsepower engine and an LR3 Land Rover that has been customized to handle snow-plowing on cold Michigan winter mornings.
It’s all in a day’s work for a man who started out four decades ago as a 22-year-old who just wanted to serve his community.
NAME OF SHOP: Community Automotive Inc.
LOCATION: Grand Rapids, Mich.
NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: 12
NUMBER OF REPAIRS WEEKLY: 82
PROJECTED ANNUAL SALES: $2.4 million
WHY COMMUNITY AUTOMOTIVE IS A MEMBER OF ASA: “Our industry needs help in standing up for what is in our best interest when it comes to government and the regulations that affect us. As a group, we stand a better chance of making a difference than we would on our own as independent businesses.”