AURORA |Between the dizzying spins, sensuous slinks and almost constant hip shimmies, salsa dancing can be provocative for those with some semblance of rhythm. At least, that’s what Edgar Leon thinks.
“That’s the type of dancing that gets you in trouble sometimes,” he says with a bashful grin.
But despite Leon’s impish thoughts on the titillating power of salsa, the Latin dance has been anything but troublesome for the Aurora mechanic. It’s how he met his wife and business partner, Reneé, in 1999.
“We met one night through dancing, and now here we are, 16 years later,” Edgar said.
Well, make that 16 years, two daughters, one business, and now, one Aurora Chamber of Commerce award later.
The Leons are the owners of Auto Pros, an automotive repair shop on North Airport Boulevard in East Aurora that was recently named small business of the year for 2014 by the Aurora Chamber of Commerce.
“To me, it’s more of a validation of what we do,” Edgar said of the award. “This award is more of ‘hey you’re doing a good job, just keep doing what you’re doing.’”
Following years of Edgar working in garages throughout the metro area and doing side repairs for friends and family, the Leons opened Auto Pros in April 2013. And since turning out their first customer on April Fool’s Day two years ago, the couple has steadily gained a customer base, added two more operating bays, and hired another mechanic — something that gave the formerly single-handed Edgar a much needed break.
But neither Edgar nor Reneé expected such robust growth, even with a customer base that is about 95 percent referrals, according to Reneé.
“We went with the stereotype thinking, ‘it’s going to take a year to get your feet under you, and then five years to be really solid,’” she said. “Well we haven’t hit the five years yet, but in our first year we were on our own and stable.”
Working on corporate vehicle fleets as well as recent approval to maintain cars and trucks owned by the city of Aurora have been major boons to business, according to Edgar.
There were just over 700,000 service technician and mechanic jobs in the U.S. in 2012, with another 60,000 expected to be added by 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That expected 9 percent growth rate for automotive repair positions is just under the national average for all jobs through 2022.
A native of El Salvador, Edgar studied to become a mechanic in his home country through a relative financing his education, but he always detested the grimy nature of the work. Upon taking his trade to the U.S., he said he vowed to change the hackneyed cliché of the filthy, bilking repair shop.
“We want to change that stereotype that there is unfortunately in this industry,” he said.
To achieve that, the Leon’s have focused on cleanliness — and it shows. After moving into an adjacent garage attached to their original location last year, there’s nary an oil stain on any of the floors below the shop’s four bays. And Edgar’s cuticles — surgically unsoiled and lacking any semblance of grease — follow suit.
“I didn’t like how dirty you get in this industry, and I didn’t want to have my fingers and nails all dirty all the time,” Edgar said. “So I decided that I’m going to change all this, and I’m going to change the stereotypes of mechanics. And for us to get that award I think that means we are doing what it takes to change that.”
Aurora residents for the past decade, the Leons said they appreciate their recent recognition from the Aurora Chamber, and already on the hunt for a third mechanic, are looking forward to furthering their impact both on the local economy and community.
“Unfortunately, because we are just a small shop right now, our impact is a smaller footprint, but it’s setting the stage — it’s presetting for when things can grow and we can do more,” Reneé said.