Standing next to his RAM truck, Andre Toodle is a big man.
The day is sunny and breezy, and he’s come home from a job to take the interview. His sister Laura, who is also his assistant, is here, along with his three children. His wife Erika is at work for the day.
Andre’s smile is welcoming and looks a little like actor Jesse L. Martin’s. It comes in handy in his work, too. Some people are uneasy trusting their car to a new mechanic. When the mechanic is coming to your house, or you’re on the open road, you want reassurance that you’ll be treated right. It can be a two-way street, but Andre acknowledges it can be more worrisome getting someone to trust him than it is for him to trust his customer.
There is plenty about Andre to trust. He has been in business for three years as a mobile mechanic; his company is Xpert Automotive Repair. Andre comes to you, so he has no garage or shop or lift. His only overhead is the cost of his gas to get to you and your car. He can provide services such as brake pad replacement, oil changes, tune-ups, coolant and radiator jobs, and replacement of various smaller parts. He can also provide roadside assistance for things such as lock outs, jump starts, tire changes, and fuel delivery, all with the convenience of service at your location, no waiting, no stress. Although he can’t work in the rain, Andre says, "If I can lift it, I can fix it."
His manner and business-style are professional. From his logo and business cards and branded shirts to his ability to take payment via invoice or credit card on the spot, he’s pulled everything together. Andre learned his mechanic skills and business savvy through 18 years working on cars in both dealerships and after-market shops. He’s been a mechanic, a tow-truck driver and a service writer. He knows the dynamics of the business.
When he left his last shop, he wanted to go independent but had no capital for a physical shop. He thought of some of the customers whose cars he’d worked on. Some were parents with harried expressions as they lost time at work or worried they would be late picking up their kids. Many of them were single parents with no one else to rely on. Some of his customers were older people who had to eat on a regular schedule but were unable to leave because their car wasn’t ready. Andre would often run out to buy lunch for those folks.
He decided he wanted to provide convenience and safety for his next set of customers. So he came up with the idea of being mobile. His first year in business was a little shaky, advertising was mostly by word-of-mouth, and he felt he had to take any call any time. The second year he took some classes, and he learned about using social media and networking. This year, his third, he needs a hand. He’s getting new customers daily; currently he has about 100-150.
"The thing is," he says, "is I need to find someone I can trust to perform quality work."
Much of what Andre learned came through the help of the man he calls "my mentor" in Virginia. He took Andre on, and once he was sure Andre was ready for the advice, he taught him all he knew. He made sure Andre took courses and got his testing done and his certifications. After a few years, once he’d shown Andre that he could believe in himself, he let him go. Andre was shocked, but his mentor explained that he needed to spend time in a dealership. So far he’d learned to work on all kinds of cars, but he needed other skills as well. "I learned speed, and multi-tasking – how to work on more than one car at a time. It was a good experience."
Andre is originally from Detroit. He belongs to the Pure Platinum Motorcycle Club, which has chapters in several states, including here and in Detroit. Touched by Flint’s water tragedy, Andre and his club held a bottled water drive. All the donations went to Detroit, and the club there personally delivered the bottled water straight to the community. Locally, every year the Bike Club holds a Book Bag Drive with a cookout, rides around the neighborhood, and a bouncy-house.
It’s part-and-parcel of what Andre wants his children to learn. He says, "I want them to understand the world is bigger than the neighborhood you’re in." He’s lived in different places, and serving in the Navy took him around the world. He wants to share what he learned from that.
He also wants to show them that "hard work pays off; nobody’s gonna give you anything," along with one of his own life lessons," good work produces good business." They’re being raised with chores to learn how to look after themselves. And he tells them, "Go to school and get a good job – If you really love me, you’ll get a good job…not so you can take care of me, but so you can take care of you."
For young fathers today, he’d tell them how one of the biggest factors in his decision to go out on his own was the number of hours he had to work and spend away from his children.
"Spend time with your kids," he says. It takes some planning and effort. "You still have to make the family time." But being your own boss gives you a little more leeway in deciding when to work and when to be with family.
His wife is studying psychology, and when she graduates, they’ll move. The plan is to have the business well-established with a good reputation, to make that move a productive one. Eventually? He’ll have multiple shops with mechanics and managers.
Andre and his family love the life he’s made for them. He knows where he’s going, whether it’s getting to the next car that needs repair, taking his kids on an outing, or with his wife Erika, planning for their future.