Maria Ureña is a nurse by profession, but these days, she’s the CEO of a full-service auto repair shop.
It’s an unusual journey but one that Ureña says has been a natural evolution as she and her husband, Cesar, have built King Automotive Services Inc., into a thriving family-owned business in Moreno Valley, California.
“Many small business owners treat it as a job but it’s a job they can have only as long as they keep the business,” Ureña says. “So we really needed to change the mindset.”
Cesar Ureña went to work with his brothers at their auto repair shop in 2001. They operated out of a single bay garage in Moreno Valley for many years, but in 2014, Cesar and Maria decided to buy out his brothers’ business. Maria became President/CEO and focused on professionalizing the business, with an eye toward expansion and hiring mechanics from the local community.
“We decided we just needed to do a little bit more, and that little bit more was the incorporation, the business structure and the long-term plan,” she says. “We wanted to start treating it like a business and not a job or a hobby.”
She credits ICIC’s Inner City Capital Connections (ICCC) program with helping the company “reframe the narrative” of their business. They partnered with the local high school foundation and school board to offer training programs. They got active in local politics. They built a business plan, and more importantly, implemented it.
While the pandemic decimated many businesses, King Automotive saw an increase in customers.
“Although people stopped driving and using their vehicles, they suddenly had time and extra resources to get their vehicles repaired,” she says. “As a business designated “essential,” we were happy to support the community by keeping our doors open.”
Thanks to the federal Payroll Protection Plan and other COVID relief programs, the company was able to avoid layoffs and furloughs. In 2020, at the height of the pandemic, King Automotive secured financing and found a building to purchase. The move has been a game-changer for the small but growing business.
Their new building includes office space, eight service bays – up from five at their previous rented location – and an employee break room. They now have 10 employees, up from five, and have added a 401(k) retirement plan and increased wages.
This impressive expansion earned King Automotive the #99 ranking on ICIC’s Inner City 100 (IC100), which celebrates the 100 fastest-growing small businesses in under-resourced communities across the nation. In addition to the company’s growth and resilience, its dedication to community impact and local job creation did not go unnoticed.
As a Latinx woman in a traditionally male-dominated industry, Ureña has taken extra steps to support her employees and build up their community. She has brought in real estate brokers to meet with employees to help them navigate the difficult path to homeownership, which has resulted in two employees buying their own homes. She sits on the boards of several nonprofit organizations and the business sponsored a recent urban beautification effort called “Clean Up Moreno Valley.”
The company also provided sponsorship to the Unidos Foundation, which is funding the nation’s first Chicano Art Center. They are also active in the State Hispanic Chambers of Commerce Foundation, working to expand regional and local programs to support small businesses.
“It’s all about getting them the information and making sure they have the resources and technical assistance we all should have,” Ureña. “We are providing a job now to others that need gainful employment. We are making sure we provide jobs within the local community and we’re also supporting education and public health programs. We want to make sure we are providing advocacy where we can for other small businesses.”
Ureña is confident that King Automotive Services Inc. will continue employing skilled labor from the local community and looks forward to servicing generations to come.
“Our customers have been very loyal to us,” she says. “We are now on to the third generation of
some of our customers. We are now taking care of their children’s cars. There’s a very loyal community here.”
In addition to ranking #99 on the 2021 Inner City 100 list, which identifies and celebrates the nation’s 100 fastest-growing businesses located in under-resourced communities, King Automotive Services Inc. is a 2020 alumna in ICIC’s Inner City Capital Connections (ICCC) program (Inland Empire 2020).
To learn more about ICIC’s other programs, visit https://icic.org/urban-business-initiatives/.
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