These days, Gregg Sheldon is firing on all cylinders.
The local entrepreneur has found a way to utilize his love of cars and his social work background in launching several businesses.
A native of Massachusetts, Sheldon spent the first few decades of life trying to figure out his place in the world. One of his first jobs was in Boston working as life skills coach and eventually a program director of a group home.
“It was not really what I wanted to do,” he said. “It was just making sure the guys were fed, medicated, had clothes on their back — just checking off the checklist. There was no progression or impact on their lives.”
So Sheldon started working with teenage boys and was a supervisor of a residential facility in western Massachusetts.
“I really liked the impact I had on them. I took them to drag races and other kinds of races,” he said. “I tried to develop an automotive program there but the vice president was like, ‘Eh, I don’t think so.’ So I said, ‘Eh, all right. I’m outta here.’”
Sheldon later found employment as a caseworker and, while attending a school meeting, he met an auto shop teacher.
“I can’t tell you about anything that happened in that meeting,” he said. “All I [could think of was] ‘How do I attain that? What does Gregg Sheldon have to do to become an auto shop teacher?’
“I was dating a girl and we were going to buy a house and everything was going to be a plateau — it was just going to be pretty good.
“But I’m not here for pretty good. I only have one time around. I told her, ‘I’m going to quit my job and follow my dream to become an auto shop teacher.’ She said, ‘Not with me you’re not.’
“I said, ‘All right, sayonara’ and moved back in with my mother at the age of 30 to go to tech school. … I spent the next five years as a technician. … I ended up at a Midas changing oil with a bachelor’s degree, I’d gone to tech school. … I thought, ‘There has to be a better way to get this experience.’”
Sheldon said he has a love for Subarus and he applied “to every Subaru dealership within a 1,500 mile radius of Massachusetts.”
He found employment in Sheboygan, Wis., in July 2014.
“It’s an interesting place and I made some good friends,” he said, “but the best thing about it was saying ‘Sheboygan.’ It wasn’t for me.”
After eight months in Wisconsin, Sheldon moved to Colorado Springs in March 2015, finding work with a local auto dealer.
“Things were pretty good but I had a difference of opinion on a couple things,” he said. “I left there and did respite relief work at a group home with kids who had mild developmental disabilities. … I was also delivering pizzas to be sure my bills were paid. And I fix friends’ cars. But I go to 1 Million Cups [networking events] a lot so people know me in the business community and in the car community. So in October 2017, I opened Autoshop Vocational.”
Sheldon’s venture is a public benefit corporation, a for-profit business with a social agenda. He taught his first course two years ago to a small group of boys in donated space at the Career Building Academy on Tia Juana Street.
“I had the space for a year. That gave me my start and I bootstrapped the first two sessions,” Sheldon said.
Autoshop Vocational has had two cohorts since it opened, and each class graduated 100 percent of its participants. Courses are $2,500 per student and run 10 weeks, two sessions a week. Sheldon is considering a summer course and scholarships are available. He said graduates receive a certificate of completion and while some who have completed the course are still in high school, several graduates have found full-time work in the industry.
“Right now I’m working on a five-week, four-days-a-week course. It’s the same curriculum, just a shorter time because people want to get into the job market faster,” Sheldon said.
He has also partnered with entrepreneur and social activist Juaquin Mobley and is about to begin a course for parolees.
“Last October we put on a car show at Mt. Carmel on a snowy Sunday and I still raised $2,000 for a veteran to take my classes,” Sheldon said. “We’re going to do another car show for vets in September and then another car show for a scholarship — Women with Wrenches — trying to get a young woman to take the class.”
Sheldon said he has “three and a half” revenue streams underway to support his dream of owning his own vocational garage.
The half stream is Sheldon’s Car Part Art business where Sheldon transforms old auto parts into decorative pieces. Another stream comes via the classes he offers to local youths. The third stream is a fundamentals workshop — the Pit Stop Workshop — that is open to anyone.
“It’s a one-day, three-hour class that teaches people to check oil, coolant, tire pressure, jumpstart your car, change a spare tire … stuff that anybody who owns a car should know,” he said.
The last revenue stream is generated from his crowdfunding initiative, the Autoshop Value Club.
“I have a lot of people in the community come up and say, ‘Hey Gregg, I know what you’re doing and I want to support you.’ They literally just want to give me money,” Sheldon said. “That’s really uncomfortable for me — I’m uncomfortable taking it for nothing. So how can I harness these people and feel comfortable taking their money? I developed this membership, referral-based crowdfunding.”
Members pay monthly or annual dues and Sheldon’s partners, small local businesses, give those members a discount.
“So if you pay $10 a month or $100 annually, you’re in the Subaru Club and you get a discount with my tire guy, my windshield guy, general service and repair, paint, mobile mechanic, that kind of stuff.”
The Cadillac Club is more expensive and earns members discounts with all the automotive partners, plus food, entertainment, yoga and massage therapists.
“And I’ve vetted all these people,” Sheldon said.
The third tier, the Duesenberg Club, provides discounts from partners in the first two tiers and adds businesses “that come to you,” Sheldon said, adding those includes plumbers, electricians, HVAC techs and so on.
Sheldon is currently utilizing a garage off Garden of Gods Road, but he’s trying to acquire a larger property, and he has a location in mind.
“That’s my goal — I’m going to start a capital campaign soon,” he said. “I hope to move in this fall.”
No matter what, Sheldon said he’ll continue working with local youths and helping provide a starting point toward a respectable career.
“Even if students can find some of the money [for the course], I’ll help find the rest of it,” he said. “If they’re driven to come to the class, we’ll find a way.”