“I really started to get into the Jeep Lifestyle after working as a mechanic,” he said. “When other people in that subgroup found out I was a mechanic and word got around, I saw a great opportunity to start my own business.”
In 2004, Carline opened the doors at Axleboy Automotive. “I wanted my shop to be a step above what people were used to receiving when they had work done on their Jeep,” he said.
What began as a small 3,000-square-foot shop has grown to 9,500 square feet. It is equipped with six lifts and an abundance of open floor space.
Jeep owners and dealerships have been relying on Axleboy’s expertise to service their every need, Carline said. “We do a lot of customization jobs. If it was up to us and money was no object, all we would do is build custom Jeeps for clients. We know repair work is necessary also though.”
He also added that as a business it is important to have multiple revenue streams going to stay afloat. The shop also does axle and differential remanufacturing for industrial and light truck applications and sells Jeep accessories. It also performs a small percentage of all makes/all models service and repair.
The shop bounced back from the recent economic downturn, as customers have more disposable income. Low gas prices and credit availability has also helped.
Carline said the shift in the economy and recent Jeep redesigns were bringing in a new clientele than had previously been its core. “Some of my best clients are now doctors, lawyers and bankers, as opposed to the ‘average Joe.’”
Since the economic upturn, Axleboy has also cultivated relationships with dealerships that seek customizations, he said. “Some dealerships just want us to put bigger tires on a stock Jeep so they can put it back on the floor and sell it. Others are more interested in helping people live the Jeep lifestyle. “We will go to the dealership and put together a package custom to the needs of that customer. We sit down with them and really break down what it is that they will need to live the type of Jeep life that they are looking for.”
Carline and his staff are actively involved in several Jeep clubs or communities, including The Midwest Jeep Thing and Jeeping Mid-Rivers. Carline and his full-time marketing director, Mike Carter, take opportunities to set up at their various events throughout the year to showcase products and services. “It is important that I am actively involved in the Jeep community. If a current or potential customer can see my passion first hand and know that it is genuine, it really helps to build relationships which ultimately lead to sales,” Carline said.
He added, “Like most small repair businesses, marketing usually falls on the owner. The problem is, most of us are mechanics by trade and marketing doesn’t come naturally, which leads to a neglect in marketing,” Carline said.
Marketing strategies include increased social media presence, Web design and customer relations, Carter said. “The use of social media in the auto repair industry as a whole has come a long way but there are still shops going about it the wrong way. We stay away from putting generic posts and ads on our sites and focus on interacting with the customer on a more personal level.”
Axleboy is a distributor and installer of TeraFlex aftermarket parts, lift kits and accessories. Recently, the shop has become certified installers of GenRight, which has high-quality suspension and body armor options, Carline said. Other parts and accessories are provided by Keystone Automotive. In addition to lift kit and tires, LED lights are presently popular sales items.
“We get our tires from US Autoforce. They have fast delivery and, in a pickle, they are real close, so we can run up and grab what we need,” he said, adding that the most popular option for Jeep owners right now is the Cooper STT Pro for mud and the Cooper ST Maxx for dual purpose applications.
Carline offered advice for other Jeep and 4×4 shops — take the time to get to know your clients. “Don’t just be their go-to for repairs. Some of the best times I can remember as an owner are the weekends I spent on the trails with my customers living the Jeep life with them.”