The Personal Finance class visited a second small business in downtown Georgetown on Wednesday, May 12. Karen Hansmeyer of P. I. Kustomz graciously agreed to show us around. P.I. Kustomz is a body shop on St. James Street with an ever-changing collection of cool cars on display. Karen runs the front office and her brother Paul works on the cars, transforming them from wrecks into seriously nice vehicles.
Karen showed us the showroom where an old Scout International has been restored to its former glory. She explained their business model: they see the potential in old or damaged cars, buy them for $200-$400, then flip them to sell for up to ten times the price.
“My brother can see what others can’t,” Karen told us. She introduced us to Paul. Paul invited us to come into the body shop–two large areas with a paint room off to the side. Everywhere we looked, there were Jeeps.
“People just love Jeeps,” said Paul. “All of these I’m working on now are already sold.” We saw a Scrambler, a custom-chopped Gladiator, a pink lowrider, several Wranglers, and even some military Jeeps. Paul has recently figured out how to put an electric engine into a Jeep to satisfy some of his customers. “I’m not worried about the future of my business,” he said. “I can always adapt.”
Paul explained that their father had had a mechanic’s shop in South Africa–that’s how he got his start working on cars. “I was out working with him every day after school, even as a little boy,” he said. At age 19, he was hired by a parts store. He reorganized the store top to bottom and took charge when the boss was away. “I did everything from making the coffee to taking orders to managing the money,” he said, noting that he has always had mind for business.
Karen and Paul’s dad taught them to be self-sufficient and to “think outside the box.” Karen told the story of wanting a watch when she was growing up. Her dad said, fine, but she had to pay for it. Rather than letting her work in a shop for wages, he forced her to come up with her own way of making money. She and Paul started a pet-dipping business (treating dogs for ticks) in their neighborhood, which taught her a valuable lesson and got her the watch.
Paul worked for many years in the Pawleys area for various car dealers refurbishing and repairing their stock. He quickly outgrew his workshop behind his house. “There were days when my wife would come home and not find a place to park,” he laughed. She told him he had to find a shop or a new house, so he eventually acquired the property on St. James Street four years ago.
Paul thrives on being self-employed. “Some people are content to draw a paycheck,” he told us. “But to really get ahead, you’ve got to start something yourself.” All of P. I. Kustomz’ business comes through word-of-mouth and they have more business than they can handle.
Paul and Karen both stressed the value of hard work and innovation when developing a new business. “You have to think differently from everyone else,” Paul said. “And you need to stick your neck out and take risks.” He had lots of advice on money management and how to be a successful entrepreneur, so this was a great field trip for Personal Finance. The class had a good time asking questions and looking at all the cool cars. Thank you, P. I. Kustomz for an entertaining and enlightening tour!
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