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Now, learn how muscle car enthusiast, Leonardo (Leo) Neira, weathered modern-day setbacks to recapture success.
DREAM IT, VISUALIZE IT, GO AFTER IT
Leo Neira didn’t know how or when, but he knew he’d someday become an entrepreneur.
A poster he had on his wall as a child in Colombia provided the best clue as to his future. It was of a Ford Mustang.
“I always dreamed of having a red Ford Mustang convertible.”
So, after graduating college, Neira went to a career fair and learned that one of the big car rental companies that was hiring offered a perk.
It grabbed his attention.
“You [got] to choose the car that you wanted to drive home.”
That sold him on the company.
“I’m going to drive a Ford Mustang home for free!”
THE TIP JAR (tips provided courtesy of Leo Neira)
STARTING OUT: “Find something that you really love that you would do… for free… Get good at it and… get paid for it.”
PRACTICAL EXAMPLE: “I don’t get tired of [the] Ford Mustang. Every time I go home, I open the roof and drive. I would do it for free. It’s a passion.”
STEEPED IN SKILLS (mid-career): “Have the customers before [you] open - and the relationships before [you] open.”
PRACTICAL EXAMPLE: Because Neira worked for a large rental car agency for five years, he says, “I already had the contacts… the hotels that sent me business, the travel agencies that would send me business. The relationship was there, so it was easy. Because when I told them I was going on my own, they already knew me. So they had no problem sending me business.”
STARTING OVER: Since he hasn’t been in that position, Neira is careful to give advice. But he says he believes education is the key.
PRACTICAL EXAMPLE: “You have to know what you’re doing. It’s hard to be a police officer all your life and then decide to be in the cake industry.”
I’LL NEVER DO THAT AGAIN:
“I think everything I did had its purpose at the time.”
“I see mistakes as lessons learned.”
BEST ADVICE FROM “LA CASA”/BEST “HOUSE” ADVICE: Neira says going to college was required in his house. Looking back, he’s glad he went.
“I did finance, and I did not go into finance. But it opens your mind in many ways. You meet people [from] different backgrounds, and I think it’s very important to do that.”
NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF LUCK
Five years into his corporate job, Neira decided he was ready to go out on his own.
A little bit of luck helped.
“I went crazy and bought four cars.”
Neira thinks they didn’t realize the four loans were all for him.
“So I had four Mustangs. That’s how I started.”
FIND A NICHE, THEN TEST EARLY TO SEE IF IT’S THE RIGHT NICHE
He knew he picked the right niche when, that same weekend, he was able to rent out all four Mustangs. His company, Miami Convertibles, was on its way.
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE
Neira says someone once told him that it takes seven years to master something. For seven years, things went smoothly. He was able to expand and buy more than 30 American muscle convertibles.
SOMETIMES, THE HITS KEEP COMING
But, then, his partner wanted to get out of the business. Neira bought out his share.
A couple of months later, COVID hit.
“It caught us by surprise.”
He says he had to close the office for several months. There weren’t any tourists to rent the convertibles.
“We had no phone calls for, like, six months. No inquiries.”
Neira had to sell practically all his cars and whittled it down to two cars, one for him and one for his wife to drive.
DON’T BE TOO PROUD TO GO BACK AND WORK FOR SOMEONE – EVEN IF IT’S FOR A SHORT TIME
Neira says it was really hard on him and his family, but he adapted. He says you do what you have to do.
In his case, Neira says that meant he had to go get a job.
HELP IS OUT THERE, ACCEPT IT
What helped? The PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loans. He calls the program a lifesaver.
“Without it… it was impossible. You know, our costs are very high. So when the money comes in, it’s no problem. But the day that the money stops coming in, it’s impossible to sustain – even if you have six months’ worth of savings.”
GET BACK UP AND TRY, TRY AGAIN
Four months later, the calls started coming in again. He quit his job. And he and his wife started the business again.
And that brings up what else he says made the difference: his wife, Ana.
SUPPORT IS INVALUABLE, CHERISH IT
“She has been the support [for] everything – family [and] business. She has been there. And, for the first year, I didn’t get paid and she supported [us] financially… You need some kind of support. If it’s not your partner in life, make sure your parents help you at the beginning.”
Neira says his business is now back to pre-COVID levels with more than 30 American muscle convertibles.
LOOK FOR THOSE WITH YOUR SHARED PASSION
He learned his childhood dream of wanting to drive a red Ford Mustang was the dream of many other people, especially in Europe and South America, where he says you don’t see Ford Mustangs.
They’ll write to him, “Hey, I’ve been dreaming to rent a Ford Mustang all my life. I’m going to the U.S. Can you help me?”
Neira says he represents “the American dream. You know, you work hard for it. And it happens… If you put in your time, it will eventually happen. It’s the country to do it. That’s the main thing.”
RIDE THE WAVE
The tough times taught him, “nothing lasts forever. It’s ups and downs. It’s always ups and downs. You just have to ride the wave.”
He’s just glad he can ride the wave, still driving his beloved Ford Mustang.
INDUSTRY: Car Rentals (American muscle convertibles)
STARTED BUSINESS: 2011
LATINO/HISPANIC CONNECTION: Born and raised in Colombia
Parents are Colombian
Florida International University – Bachelor’s degree in Finance
DREAM JOB AS A KID: “You have friends that know they’re going to be lawyers [or] doctors. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”
BIGGEST GOAL YET: “Expand. You know, it’s hard to grow in my industry because, every time you grow, it’s $40,000 [to buy a new car].”
“It’s hard, but it’s doable.”
Neira says his wife, Ana, just had their third child. "Whenever she’s ready, we’ll open a second branch where she’ll manage [that location].”
NO NEED TO GO IT ALONE
HELP ON THE OUTSIDE...because we can all use a helping hand:
Intellectual Property and Your Business
What is intellectual property? What do you need to know about patents, trademarks and your rights? Find out in this FREE webinar, which will also discuss domain names. Here are more details:
SBA (Small Business Administration) & SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives)
"How to Protect Your Intellectual Property"
Thursday, June 9, 2022
5:30 p.m. EDT - 7:30 p.m. EDT
WORKING ON THE INSIDE...because we know our culture has a hard time asking for help:
Don't Let the Chaos Overwhelm You
Sounds good in theory. How do you do it when things are going wrong in real life? This FREE webinar will help you find a way to manage your personal and professional crises and save your sanity. Find out more below:
NEC (National Entrepreneurship Center) & SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives)
"Finding Contentment in a Chaotic World"
Tuesday, June 14, 2022
5:30 p.m. EDT - 7:30 p.m. EDT
INSPIRATION FOR THIS ISSUE:
We know the restaurant industry was hit particularly hard due to COVID-19. Once more comprehensive data is gathered, I will be interested to find out how many total businesses in the U.S. permanently shut down because of the pandemic.
Fortunately, many people used the opportunity to start businesses. But for many small business owners, it really has been touch and go.
For those business owners, how do they know if it’s time to throw in the towel or give it another go?
Leo Neira’s story describes the very real ups and downs of entrepreneurship. Regardless of whether things were on the upswing or going downhill, the one thing he told me he was sure about is that he could not have done it without his wife, Ana.
He placed a big focus on the support any type of entrepreneur needs to ride the wave.
If you have a strong support system, whether it’s a spouse, parent, child or close network of friends, consider yourself blessed.
If you don’t, seek it out. Not just for your business, but for your life.
We need to have those connections, especially in these times.
I always say, it takes just five words to break down barriers: Can you please help me?
Remember, people want to help, especially if asked.
Sometimes, they just don’t know who needs the help. Just reach out.
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