Lee Yoder and his son Warren (right) took over the business 30 years ago and have built it into a $93 million-in-sales company. Jonathan Castner / for BizWest

Revved up: Weld County Garage 2013 Bravo! Entrepreneur

In the early 1900s, Weld County Garage was the place to go for buggy repair. In the 1980s, well after cars surpassed horse-drawn carriages, it added appliances to its core business. Today, Weld County Garage and its sister business Herbies employ more than 170 people and claim more than $93 million in annual sales.

Founded in 1908, Greeley’s Weld County Garage is most closely associated with the father-son team of Lee and Warren Yoder, who took it over in the spring of 1982.

With an eighth-grade education typical of Amish families, Lee Yoder left the family farm in Kansas when he was 18 for Denver, where he eventually bought a service station. At 27, his mother died and, at 30, his father passed away.

“It was so traumatic, so I changed my career,” Lee said.

He learned to sell cars from a neighbor, but was bothered by how some salesmen treated customers. He moved to a Greeley dealership that better reflected his values and in 1982, he bought Weld County Garage. At the time, Weld County Garage had 36 employees and $6 million in sales. Fifteen years later, Weld County Garage was up to 150 employees and $77 million in annual sales.

“I’m not smart about business and I haven’t had a lot of training in the philosophy of business, but I lose sleep if I’ve lost a customer,” Lee said.

While Lee doesn’t have an MBA, his office is overrun with business books and his focus on ethical business practices has allowed him to attract lifelong employees, many of whom have worked for the Yoders for more than 30 years.

“If you’re arguing over a $10 taillight lens and over a lifetime that customer is worth $350,000, to trade $10 just to win a battle is so stupid,” Lee said. “We’ve latched onto people who think that way. It has to be good for everyone.”

Not only do the Yoders strive to put employees in roles that match their skills and interests, they also allow employees to make decisions. Warren, who took over Weld County Garage in 2000, gives every employee — from parts staff to sales people — the discretion to fix up to a $500 mistake without approval.

“It’s a big thing to give them an opportunity to grow without micromanaging them. I’m not one to put my finger on every decision,” Warren said.

Like any business, Weld County Garage has seen its share of ups and downs.

In 1999, the Yoders’ J.D. Byrider franchise lost its line of credit and Lee had to lay off 36 employees two weeks before Christmas.

“That caused me to get really close to this business,” Lee said. “I know every part of it because of the need.”

Capitalizing on consumers’ need for credit during the recession, the Yoders opened Herbies, a used-car operation that provides financing for buyers who typically struggle to secure a conventional loan. In the first month, Herbies sold four cars. Today, Herbies has 70 employees (up from three) and sold approximately 1,100 cars in 2012.

“If you just look at the bottom line in this business, you’ll hurt people,” Lee said. “It’s a need store, not a want store.”

The Yoders are now talking to Francorp, the franchising entity that backed McDonald’s and Jimmy Johns, about starting a Herbies franchise.

“Our customer is the guy that sweeps the schools, the guy who works in a gas station – you’d probably miss him more than your attorney if he didn’t show up for work,” Lee said.

Herbies has what some might consider an unusual workforce – former addicts and convicted criminals are among its staff – but like Weld County Garage, Herbies employees are loyal. “People have been here for 12, 14 years,” Lee said.

How smooth-running is the place?

“This time in my life is perfect,” Lee said. “I can leave for a month at a time and it runs just as perfectly as if I were here.”

In the early 1900s, Weld County Garage was the place to go for buggy repair. In the 1980s, well after cars surpassed horse-drawn carriages, it added appliances to its core business. Today, Weld County Garage and its sister business Herbies employ more than 170 people and claim more than $93 million in annual sales.

Founded in 1908, Greeley’s Weld County Garage is most closely associated with the father-son team of Lee and Warren Yoder, who took it over in the spring of 1982.

With an eighth-grade education typical of Amish families, Lee Yoder left the family farm in Kansas when he was 18 for Denver, where he eventually bought a service station. At 27, his mother died and, at 30, his father passed away.

“It was so traumatic, so I changed my career,” Lee said.

He learned to sell cars from a neighbor, but was bothered by how some salesmen treated customers. He moved to a Greeley dealership that better reflected his values and in 1982, he bought Weld County Garage. At the time, Weld County Garage had 36 employees and $6 million in sales. Fifteen years later, Weld County Garage was up to 150 employees and $77 million in annual sales.

“I’m not smart about business and I haven’t had a lot of training in the philosophy of business, but I lose sleep if I’ve lost a customer,” Lee said.

While Lee doesn’t have an MBA, his office is overrun with business books and his focus on ethical business practices has allowed him to attract…