When Joel Ruiz first came to the United States in 2009, he arrived with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from one of the best universities in Cuba, and 12 years of experience as a manager, salesman and mechanic for Peugeot and Fiat in Havana. In the U.S., however, his education and experience were only enough to get him a job at a local tire shop. He knew he would have to work hard if he wanted things to change.
Fortunately for Joel, he had a sister and brother in law waiting for him in Louisville when he arrived. Yoanna and Jorge Richardson had come to a similar realization when they first came to the U.S. in 2002. In time, Jorge saved up enough to purchase a long-haul truck and Yoanna got trained as a lab technician, and in less than 10 years they had purchased a new home and were ready to start their own family business. What they didn’t know was how to do it in the United States.
Together with Joel, Jorge and Yoanna entered the IDA program at Jewish Family & Career Services (JFCS) in early 2010, and in less than a year had saved the maximum $4,000 to start their business. Along with the matching funds, they three used their savings to purchase the equipment needed to open a part-time, home-based body shop, doing tire changes, body damage repair, and paint jobs.
They also started selling cars on the side. “We looked at the market, and we saw that old Hondas and Toyotas sell very well. We can get one from the auction in good condition, fix it up like new, and sell for a good profit.” When they reached the private sale limit of nine cars in a year and had orders for ten more, all while operating on a part-time basis, they knew it was time to open a dealership.
Remembering the business training they received at JFCS, Joel and Jorge came back to update their business plan and apply for a loan. Once the planning was complete, the business staff at JFCS helped the group find a location for their new dealership near Churchill Downs, negotiate a long-term lease, develop their logo, get bonded and insured, and finally, apply for a state motor vehicle dealership license.
“We came for help from Griffin and Dan because they can do five things with only one hand,” joked Joel after it was done. Using the $15,000 that they had saved from money generated by the body shop, a $10,000 start-up loan from JFCS and $8,000 in leveraged funds from the City of Louisville, Joel and Jorge opened J.J. Family Auto Sales in June of 2012.
Their business model is a unique one, although growing in popularity. Rather than competing in the traditional dealer market, they focus instead on the purchase at auction of semi-new automobiles whose total costs of repair incline insurance companies to write them off rather than fix them. In identifying cars for restoration, Joel and Jorge are careful to select vehicles that haven’t suffered major mechanical, engine, or water damage. Instead, many of the cars that they purchase only require new doors, side paneling, and body work.
J.J. Family Auto Sales targets customers who “need good, dependable cars, but can’t afford to spend the money on a new car.” They focus on early 2000-model Hondas and Toyotas, and sell the majority of their cars for around $3,500. Because they do all the work themselves, the profit margins are still excellent. They’re perfect for commuters and for parents shopping for a teenager’s first car.
ORR Individual Development Accounts (IDA) are matched savings accounts designed to help refugees save for a specific purchase. They receive basic financial training to help them understand the American financial system, budgeting, saving and credit.