Edgar Opazo has a vision for the world of automotive servicing, and it is an experience like no other. At Auto Clinic International, Edgar works hard, along with his business partner, to provide that vision for his customers. We visited to learn more about his story rising up as an immigrant in Frederick’s business world.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your business, Auto Clinic International.
I usually go by Edgar, Edgar Opazo. I’m originally from Chile, and I’ve been in this beautiful country for about 20 years now. I recently became a citizen, so I’m super excited about that! I came from school in Chile for an electrical engineering degree, but it never felt right. So, when I started working on cars, there was something really particular about it; I had a simple job, but I really liked it. So, fast-forward: I started working for Nick here at ACI. An opportunity showed itself in July of 2017, and Nick asked me to join as partner. Well, I said sure! It’s been a huge learning curve. It took me a while to understand that it’s not the same to fix cars as it is to run a business to fix the cars. At first, I didn’t understand, but now I do. It’s not even close.
What do you think prepared you for this transition from working in the shop to becoming an owner?
Life. One of the things that I had to deal with when I first came to the United States was the language barrier. My very first job was cleaning toilets and vacuuming carpets at a restaurant in Bethesda, so I think what really prepared me for this challenge as a business owner was my constant effort to work and never stop working. I’m always working; I’m always doing stuff. I can’t be sitting; it just itches me. I think it’s really the constant effort to better myself. I’ve had so many life experiences when I had rough spots, and those made me understand how a business should be run. At least, it gave me an idea. But definitely that, and then I would say my dad. That dude is crazy. He’s an example; he really is. He’s just an inspiration, and I think that’s helped me to reach this point.
What’s your experience been like working and living in Frederick?
I love Frederick! I spent a lot of time in my young years enjoying D.C. life. I’ve been in Downtown at night in Frederick, but...it’s not the same, and I like that. I like that quietness. I like that people are super friendly. I really enjoy how calm the County is...and the City: I love it.
What is the most challenging part about being a business owner?
I would say one of the hardest parts of being a business owner is all of the the tough decisions you sometimes have to make—to let someone go, for example. And in this field that we are in, customer service, it’s tough; it’s really tough, so as a business owner being able to make everybody happy and keep the company on the right path, decisions...they have to be made.
What are your goals for Auto Clinic International?
My short-term goal is to open two more stores: one in Hagerstown, one in Clarksburg. My long-term goal is to have more stores throughout Maryland. My dream will be to maybe have a couple stores in different states and make this a franchise. Not because I want to make money—that’s not my main focus. I want to be the change that the automotive industry needs. I really think that public perception and the industry of automotive care needs to be changed. I think that we are delivering a high level of customer service when we work so hard every day to make customers feel welcome.
What are you doing as the business owner to change the perception?
People often compare a visit to the mechanic to going to the dentist. It’s very similar because you know you’re going to have some sort of pain, you’re going to have to pay a lot of money, and you may or may not come out of there fixed, right? But here, we are making it transparent for the customers and making sure that communication is super open for every decision. We show you pictures of your problem. And look—the waiting area. People come in here and think, ‘This is not an auto repair shop, I mean, where are the greasy guys? You know, where is the dirty floor?’ We make sure that we are causing a good experience, and we do that as a team.
What is it like to be a minority business owner and an immigrant in this industry?
Well, the immigrant part does present a challenge by itself, you know, and people look at me, and they see a Mexican when I’m really from Chile. You get looked down on because of your skin color or appearance. There’s a lack of respect. When I first came to the country, it used to bother me a lot. But I learned to understand that not all people think the same way. However, some people are resistant to the idea that I’m a business-owner. So yeah, it is a challenge to be a minority in America. One heck of a challenge. Hopefully, someday that will change. Your skin color shouldn’t matter; where you’re from shouldn’t matter. What matters is what you bring to the table; who you are as a person.
What do you wish you had known from the beginning?
I wish I had some kind of exposure to what it means to be a businessperson. I would have loved to have some kind of exposure to work alongside with somebody, and I’m very open with the employees here about my challenges and the things I go through, and they see it. Because I want to get people side by side so they can have the exposure to grow the company; so they can be intrinsic parts of the company; so they can be good business-people. But at the end of the day, it’s how you make a decision that’s going to affect your business, and I wish I had more exposure. I wish I had someone to get me through.
Do you have any advice for other people, especially minorities, who are considering owning a business?
Make sure you have patience. Lots and lots of patience. Make sure that you can handle stressful situations. And I would say, above all, make sure you have faith. Have faith that if you are in the path that you are today, and if you are willing to take charge of that decision—it’s called an entrepreneurial seizure—I would say just put your back into it. Do not give up. I think that everything that happened in my life, even the bad spots, the really critical ones, put me on my path and made me the person that I am today. So I would say, if anything, as a minority? Push back. Just push back, dude. Don’t care that people don’t see you or don’t understand who you are because of a first impression or what you look like. Just push back. Keep going. If you need help, give me a call! I’ll be more than happy.