Under the Hood

American Pride Automotive’s Charlie Marcotte Talks Shop

by Grace Silipigni

American Pride Automotive (APA) might just be the most appropriately named business on the west side of the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel. The operations of the Peninsula-based collection of auto repair shops founded by Army veteran, and company President Charlie Marcotte, are grounded in the basic principles that have made the American Dream possible for so many small business owners – quality work, honest prices, and the cultivation of lifelong relationships.

Marcotte is a passionate leader fueled by innovation, growth and change. He’s constantly seeking ways to develop the talents of his 45 full-time employees to better service his expansive portfolio of clients spanning the Greater Williamsburg area. “If we were to stand still for a month or two, we’d find ourselves behind the curve,” says Marcotte. “We operate in an environment of constant learning. Every day we’re acquiring new techniques and investing in new technologies. As a direct result, we’re able to meet our customers’ needs and deliver top-notch service.”

Marcotte understands the need for his staff to experience the failures and successes of the business world, so that they’re better equipped to navigate future challenges. When Marcotte retired from the military and first entered the car business in 1991, he experienced a huge learning curve. “My father and I worked out of a storage unit in Hampton. We kept our tools inside and worked on the asphalt outside,” remembers Marcotte. “At that point, we were just fixing up cars to sell them for enough money to keep food on the table. When we opened APA’s first official shop in 1995, we worked twelve-hour shifts six days a week. Looking back, I’d do it all again.”

The grit and sweat involved in hard labor kept Marcotte operating like a well-oiled machine for several years, but slowly he phased himself out of the garage side of the business, and into the office environment in order to hone an entirely different set of skills: communications and sales. His friendly demeanor and sharp entrepreneurial skills helped Marcotte refine his approach to business expansion. This forward-thinking pivot helped Marcotte to established five, full-service garages specializing in everything from state inspections and A/C repairs to alternator replacements and heavy-duty truck repair. “I know that oftentimes, the owner’s strength is the business’s weakness. I knew I had to transition out of the hands-on repair side of the business in order to grow. This meant hiring people that are better at it than I am,” he says. “ Now, our team members are some of the best in the industry.”

Marcotte gives back to the community through local initiatives like State Inspections for Our Community and Transportation Matters, a program that partners with local nonprofits to provide free maintenance and repairs for single-parent families in need.

After nearly three decades with APA, Marcotte anticipates the next chapter of growth. This time, however, he’ll write himself completely out of the story and invite his son, Andrew, to take the wheel. “His leadership will allow for a growth I cannot deliver,” says Marcotte. “More importantly, he brings with him a skill set far different than my own, skills American Pride Automotive needs to advance.”

Andrew currently serves as APA’s vice president. His background includes top-notch training as a Virginia Military Institute Keydet and three years of corporate work for the Target Corporation. Despite his corporate background, Andrew intends to stay true to APA’s homegrown roots. “I am very conscious of not sacrificing the excellent culture we have cultivated in the pursuit of growth as it wouldn’t serve our team, or our clients,” explains Andrew. “Our culture is our differentiator and is what keeps our employee and client retention at industry-leading levels.”

Like his father, Andrew is driven by the success of those around him. “Seeing our staff achieve things personally and professionally that they did not know they were capable of is what keeps my fire burning and is by far my favorite part of this job,” he says. “Continued growth is on the horizon, and it’s necessary in order to provide our team opportunities to develop and to achieve their career goals while remaining within the APA culture.”

While Marcotte has yet to leave his post at APA, he leaves us with a few words of wisdom: “My advice – don’t be afraid to bring someone on who has more talent than you.”

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