From car crazy kid to small business owner

Chris Hinkle has always been car crazy. In the 20 years I?ve known him, it?s been car after car, most of them muscle cars. He?s what we used to call a ?gear head.?

His first car was an 1984 Mustang, four-speed, four banger. The ignition was broke, so it had a push-button starter. If Chris revved it up too high, and at 16 you do things like that, the rocker arm would come off. He?d have to take the valve cover off and put the rocker arm back on. Chris learned at a young age how to work on cars.

It was only natural that Chris Hinkle would go into the car business. He went to work for a local dealership selling cars. Being young and unafraid of technology, Chris was also heavy into computers, self taught. Taking advantage of his expertise, the dealership put Chris in charge of developing its internet program, selling vehicles over the internet.

Hinkle left the dealership and tried his hand at insurance. When that didn?t pan out, he returned to the dealership, this time in the after-market department, selling parts and accessories. He won an award from Chrysler for selling the most MOPAR accessories in the Chicago region - all this from Mt. Pleasant, a town of 8,000 people. The award included a trip for Chris and his wife, Bethany, to Cozumel and the Grand Caymans.

Chris also started the Spray-In Bedliner Department at the dealership. He then went to service and was the service writer for three years.

He and his wife and four boys are from Morning Sun. Mediapolis is closer to Morning Sun than Mt. Pleasant. When an opening presented itself at the car auction in Mediapolis, Chris snapped it up. Just what Chris needed?more cars! As a dealer-rep, Chris? job was to travel around to dealerships and find cars to be consigned to the auction. Chris would also buy cars. If he knew someone wanted a certain car, and he saw it on a lot, he?d put the deal together. His experience with cars was beginning to pay off.

It was about this time that Chris started replacing instrument clusters on cars. When the gauges on a car won?t work, like the fuel gauge, alternator, speedometer, or tachometer, an instrument cluster is usually involved. These are tiny little motors that operate the needle. The dashboard has to be taken apart, wires unsoldered, and resisters checked. This is tedious work that dealerships typically don?t want to bother with. Chris developed an expertise in this area and turned it into a small business.

He then returned to his original auto dealership, this time as the used-car manager in charge of 1.3 ? 1.5 million dollars worth of inventory. Chris bought cars for the dealership, appraised all the trade-ins, and decided what to do with them.

So, Chris has done it all, except for finance. But he wasn?t happy. He was working long hours and not being able to spend the quality time with his family. Chris and his wife, Bethany, have a routine. Every Friday night, they meet to buy groceries and go out for dinner. They call it ?date night.? They talked about the situation.

Paul Boles, owner of Boles Auto, of Mt. Pleasant, was retiring and wanting to sell his business. Chris and Bethany met with Paul and his wife, they prayed, and a deal was struck. Paul knew Chris well and was excited that his business would go to a local family who would take good care of it like he had.

At 39, Chris is in business. Located on Highway 34 between Mt. Pleasant and Burlington, Hinkle Auto Sales is in an ideal location. After a soft opening, and only being in business a couple of weeks, Chris has already sold four vehicles.

I don?t ever want to hear again that the American Dream is dead and that there is no longer the opportunity for someone who is willing to work hard and put forth the effort. On Chris? office wall, Bethany has hung a sign. It says simply, ?Success is a ladder. It cannot be climbed with your hands in your pockets.?


Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant 319-217-0526, email him at or find him on Facebook. Curt?s stories are also read at 106.3 FM in Farmington.