How Education Can Pay Off—Big

Aug. 1, 2007
Human-dynamo Lucy Gallardo has made her education pay off

Lucy Gallardo’s new Riverside, Calif. detailing shop needed more accounts badly, but her male partners’ best seat-of-your-pants marketing efforts had come up with exactly zilch.

Her first thought: What have I learned in school that can help us? Then she got to work.

“I did some research and put together a sales package that I could take out there with me to sell our shop to people, and then I just went out there myself,” recalls the 22-year-old Gallardo — who’d enrolled in full-time undergraduate business courses at California State University-San Bernardino, while also working full-time as human resources manager at a local roofing company, in addition to the round-the-clock responsibilities at her own shop.

“The package had everything I could think of in it — our prices, our licenses and permits, a description of all the services we offer and a picture of our building. After two weeks of going from dealership to dealership, I couldn’t believe it — we actually had nine new accounts! I was so proud of the fact that these people actually wanted to hear what I had to sell.”

Less than two years later, Gallardo’s once-struggling detailing shop has grown into Inland Empire Auto Body and Paint, which she owns with her husband, Isaac, and partner Juan Garcia, who’d previously worked with Isaac for six years as a Harley-Davidson custom painter at another company.

And, while their 5,400-square-foot autobody, custom painting and detailing business is still not quite the “real, full-scale collision repair business” Gallardo and her husband envision running someday, nobody can question the fact that they’re now much more than well on their way.

Gallardo also knows that this might not be the case — at least so soon — if she hadn’t been able to apply all that she’s learned in school directly to the day-to-day realities of her business. The sales package she put together for her new-account sales pitches, for example, came right out of Cal State’s marketing classes and mentorship programs. Gallardo’s list of other practical benefits goes on and on.

“I’ve been thinking about this since I was 17 years old — I’ve always wanted to run my own business ever since I can remember,” she says. “So you put everything you have into your business, and the—quote—school of hard knocks is really, really valuable. But, for me, combining that with school has been an even greater benefit.”

Lucy’s efforts to date, as well as her time-management mastery under a work schedule that would drive others batty, earned her a third-place regional finish at the Entrepreneurs’ Organization’s annual Global Student Entrepreneur Awards competition in April.

Some 700 competitors from all over the world entered the competition — dubbed the “Heisman Trophy” for budding business self-starters who are also full-time students. Gallardo was the only autobody entry — and the only female — to be honored this year. Her finish also brought her a $1,000 scholarship for her remaining undergraduate business education, which she plans to complete by next June.

According to Eric McKinnon, merging programs manager for the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, one thing was clear to the judges after Gallardo’s presentation at the California regional finals: Some youngsters, you hope will make it in business; others, you KNOW will make it — and human-dynamo Lucy Gallardo is definitely one of those.

“I mean, think about it: She’s only 22 years old, and she’s already won third place in the regional finals of a worldwide competition — and her score was really basically a second-place tie. So there’s no reason whatsoever that she couldn’t win the whole thing next year if she wanted,” McKinnon notes.

“The judges were impressed with so much about Lucy,” McKinnon adds. “She showed a huge determination to succeed — she’s really willing to overcome any challenge that gets in her way. Lucy also had a really solid plan for the future. When it came time for her formal presentation and the question-and-answer period afterwards, she did the whole thing in PowerPoint and just laid out a really solid vision and a really detailed plan that was obviously just super-researched.

“A lot of times, the student entrepreneurs we see have a kind of general plan for their future, but Lucy was something special. You could tell that right away.”

Says the seemingly always-enthusiastic Gallardo of the honor: “I couldn’t get over it! It was the first award I’ve ever received at the college level and one of the biggest awards I’ve ever gotten. When I told my [Cal State] mentor and instructor [Monica Brule, director of the school’s Entrepreneurship Center] about it, she just started screaming! I was the first in the department ever to win this award.”

‘TIME MANAGEMENT TO THE BONE’

As you might expect, Gallardo’s workday schedule is a killer — yet she describes it as a practical labor of love. To begin with, she’s taking more business classes than the average Cal State student, majoring in both entrepreneurial management and business administration with a management concentration. She’s also minoring in human resources.

What’s in it for YOU?Thinking about education? Here’s some advice. When told how Lucy Gallardo has translated her college business education into real-world results at her shop, Bill Haas, vice president of education and training for the Automotive Service Association, had a predictable response.
“Wow!” he said. “Now that IS inspirational — and she’s only 22 years old?! I think the reaction from a lot of longtime, veteran shop owners out there might even be that they’re envious.” If so, let envy be a motivator for you to get educational results yourself, Haas advised, noting that there are plenty of opportunities out there — at many levels — for shop owners, managers, technicians, customer-service specialists and front office employees who want to get the biggest bang for their educational buck. “More and more, being successful in the collision repair industry is going to take the same kind of business and management attitude for everyone — be they long-timers or start-ups — that Lucy has already demonstrated at such a young age,” Haas explained. “Nothing — and I mean absolutely nothing — stays the same for very long in this industry anymore, whether you’re talking about technology, insurance companies, customers, complying with state and federal regulations or anything else. In order to be successful today, continuing education is absolutely essential.” For full- or part-time general business and/or management training, Haas recommends an online, telephone and/or personal visit to the closest university, technical school or college in your area. I-CAR (i-car.com) and the Automotive Management Institute (amionline.org), meanwhile, specialize in industry-specific management and technical training, as do the Illinois-based Masters School (masters-school.com), and most autobody franchises and paint companies. Haas noted that many educational outlets also offer online-only courses, DVD training and certification videos, etc. that can eliminate scheduling conflicts that might otherwise arise for those who work full-time while they’re going to school. “The important thing for all of us as business owners is to find out what’s best for us,” Haas said.

She explains of her entrepreneurship and management goals: “First, I want to be sure I’m managing the best group of people in the future in the best way I can, and I don’t want to make some of the mistakes others have made. Second, what I study through the Entrepreneurship Center is amazingly valuable on its own, but it’s also great for networking, since all the instructors there are already successful in business. Networking is huge for any entrepreneur, and the center’s been so helpful in so many ways.”

Then there’s Inland Empire Auto Body and Paint, Inc., to which Gallardo and her partners “gave all of our savings, everything we had” in the beginning and which remains “always the first priority.”

“I’m the person who does all the administrative work,” she notes. “I do all the business development, all the marketing and advertising, and I deal directly with the city to make sure all the permits are in place. I also see the business forecasting. I order supplies, materials and parts. And, most importantly, I deal with the cash flow and anything else the guys need.”

Her human resources training at school, meanwhile, also translates directly into practical experience for her shop, as well as at the roofing company where she now works only part time. (“I had to cut down from full-time to part-time because my schedule was starting to affect my health,” she says.)

All told, Gallardo typically spends 20 hours a week either at school or studying, 26 hours at the roofing company and another 20-plus hours at her own shop.

“So it’s pretty much nonstop time management to the bone — you just have to learn to adapt to it,” she says, actually chuckling about it as she speaks. “My husband is my number one motivator, and because of him, I feel I am able to stand on my own two feet at all times. At the same time, I think I’m the lucky one. My husband and Juan are always working at the shop from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day, and it’s amazing to me because, for them, it’s all day long in one place. I, at least, can get out for a while here and there.”

SUPER MENTORS AT SCHOOL

Gallardo gives enormous props for her success to Cal State-San Bernardino faculty like Entrepreneurship Center Director Brule (pronounced Broo-LAY), who have been almost saintly in their willingness to work closely with her beyond the classroom — on everything from hands-on business advice to networking.

Brule, for example, has often come out to Inland Empire to help Gallardo tackle such key, yet mind-numbing, tasks as setting up a state-of-the-art cash flow accounting system.

“As I advanced in school, I found that cash flowing was one of the things I just had a little trouble with — it’s just really hard to do at first,” Gallardo remembers. “But then, here’s the director of the entire Entrepreneurship Center offering to come out to the shop for a visit. And then she’s going through our entire cash flow with me step-by-step herself at the shop. When people get directly involved with you like that, you definitely have to give them a lot of credit.”

One entrepreneurship class also had direct value when it brought the students out to study a local motorcycle business up-close and personal, Gallardo notes, adding, “Because of experiences like that, I’ve been able to change a lot of different things at my shop for the better.”

One more of many practical benefits of school for Gallardo’s business: At one point, the Entrepreneurship Center referred her to an attorney who assisted with Inland Empire’s incorporation — then also networked her to the CPA who helped her set up the best accounting system for her shop.

No wonder, then, that Gallardo recommends continuing education for any shop owner who wants to get ahead, be they longtime veterans or beginners.

“What they’ve taught us is what I’m applying every day in my own business — apart from marrying my husband, school has been by far the best choice I’ve made in my life,” she concludes. “So I would definitely recommend it for others — learning from experts is essential for a business owner. I look at it this way: You definitely won’t lose anything by doing it — and you will almost certainly gain a lot.”

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