Power Steering: One Woman’s Success Story
Chandra Proffitt Details Her Journey From Rock Bottom to CFO
By Chad Simon
Proffitt’s Resurrection Land Cruisers, located in Orchard City, Colorado, relaunched in 2016.
Chandra Proffitt never had it easy. She lost her mother at the age of 10 and was bounced around in foster care before running away at the age of 16. She became a drug addict and lived on the streets of Grand Junction, Colorado.
One morning, she woke up and decided she’d had enough. She took her dog and the clothes on her back and moved to Gunnison, Colorado, where she enrolled at Western State University to pursue her business degree. She graduated summa cum laude while raising her two children, whom she had unexpectedly conceived with her boyfriend while studying at the university. A year later, she left the father of her children and became a single mother.
Fearful that she wouldn’t be able to provide for her kids, Chandra decided to return to Grand Junction to start nursing school because she knew the degree was a hot commodity in the job market. There, during her first semester, she met Jeremiah Proffitt for dinner one night. Eight weeks later they married and moved to Powderhorn, Colorado. At that time, Jeremiah’s business, Proffitt’s Cruisers, had been bought out, but the company failed and dissolved, leaving Jeremiah with a huge hole in his heart.
“Before we knew it, he couldn’t help himself,” Chandra said. “He started building a Land Cruiser in the garage, and then another one. I told him, ‘You can’t not do this. You not going back to building Land Cruisers is like me saying I’m just going to go work at McDonald’s for the rest of my life. It would be a waste of an amazing thing. If you don’t share it with the world, you’re being selfish.’”
Jeremiah and Chandra resurrected the company in 2016 and fittingly renamed it Proffitt’s Resurrection Land Cruisers. At the time, Chandra was still pursuing her nursing degree. During the winter, she would snowmobile 16 mi. cross-country at 5:30 a.m., then get in her car and drive another 55 mi. to Delta Montrose Technical College. She would then drive back, snowmobile to her house, and drive another 15 mi. to the bus stop to pick up her kids. On days when the road was open, it wasn’t uncommon for her to put on more than 200 mi. a day in her car, driving between her home, the shop in Orchard City, the bus stop and the nursing school.
In 2017, she earned her bachelor of science in nursing with a 4.0 from Colorado Mesa University, and she’s now Proffitt’s Resurrection’s CFO. In 2019, she and Jeremiah’s “miracle baby” was born via in vitro fertilization, and the rest is history.
“I came to the automotive industry from rock bottom,” Chandra confessed. “Seventeen years ago, I was a homeless drug addict. I was in a bad place.”
Her story—which she shared during an education session at the 2021 SEMA Show—is an inspiring one about how she clawed her way out of the doldrums to become a respected businesswoman in a male-dominated industry.
The Proffitt family: Jeremiah (left), Chandra (center), Lilian (second left), Atlas and Paden (right).
It was around the time Chandra finished her nursing degree that she began to help Jeremiah run the company. They had four employees. As was her nature, she tirelessly researched how to build a business from scratch. She credits self-help books, including The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, which talks about getting in the driver’s seat of your life.
“I use terms like ‘the journey,’ ‘the road’ and ‘road blocks,’” she said. “It’s pretty easy to find the parallels in one’s life, because life is a journey. You can either let life drive you around, or you can get in the driver’s seat. I also talk about changing directions and how sometimes we think we’re going in the right direction and then something crazy happens and you can get into a mindset where a change is okay and you can kind of run with it.”
Proffitt’s Resurrection Land Cruisers began the same way the previous company did many years ago but with a new take on it, and customers were lining up to have their Land Cruisers restored, according to Chandra.
In 2017, just a year and a half after opening, Proffitt’s Resurrection went to the SEMA Show for the first time.
“When I first went to the SEMA Show, I learned about ‘Profit First,’which is one of the key tools that I use to run our finances,” Chandra said. “I learned that from Mike Michalowicz’s presentation at the 2017 SEMA Show, and I implemented that program within a month after returning from the Show.”
Chandra realizes that businesses operate differently, and Proffitt’s Resurrection is merely a case study of exactly how they implemented the practices that enabled them to pay off more than $100,000 of debt in the first 18 months.
“It was insane how this literally changed the trajectory of our business,” Chandra said. “Continuous improvement is one of our core values—and for myself personally. I’m always striving to continuously improve. I am constantly filling my brain with new information. When I was in a fledgling business, I wish somebody would have said, ‘Read this book right before you start, because it’s going to change the way you do things.’”
Chandra’s CFO mentor recommended the books Traction and Get a Grip, and that’s what introduced her to the Entrepreneurial Operating System, which is a set of concepts and practical tools designed to clarify, simplify and achieve a company’s vision. Chandra also referenced Toyota Way’s “Two Pillars of Continuous Improvement” and “Respect for People,” which are core values that Proffitt’s Resurrection tries to embody as a company.
Chandra Proffitt presented her “Power Steering: One Woman’s Success Story” at the 2021 SEMA Show in Las Vegas.
Chandra knows firsthand how difficult it is to be taken seriously as a woman in the automotive industry. When Jeremiah and Chandra first started Proffitt’s Resurrection, she got her hands dirty with the guys in the shop, which gained her a ton of respect because she wasn’t afraid to put in the hours.
“Our key employees in top management positions actually respect me as a person, and I become less of a woman and more of a peer,” Chandra said. “That has helped immensely, but I found that sometimes it’s easier for me to try to plant a seed than to be direct. Sometimes I’m not direct enough because I’ve experienced so many times when I made a suggestion and have been shot down. Then a couple of months later, some guy comes up and says the same thing that I’ve been saying for the last three months and it’s cool all of a sudden.”
Chandra is working on being more assertive about pushing her ideas through and accepting full responsibility if they don’t work out and taking credit if they do.
Becoming More Efficient
As an essential company, Proffitt’s Resurrection never slowed down due to COVID-19. Chandra used the influx of government funds to implement a full benefits package for her employees.
“There aren’t a lot of smaller shops that have a full benefits package,” she said. “We pay more than 50% for those services, and we do a 4% 401K match. We’re getting better employees because of that. We’ve instilled some loyalty, and our employees understand that we actually care about them, because being well, they’re feeling fulfilled and then they can do their jobs better.”
Now with 19 employees, hiring quality personnel has always been and will continue to be a challenge, according to Chandra. It’s important to try to get the right people in the right seats but also to let people go if it’s not working out.
“It’s difficult, and you have to ask yourself if it’s worthwhile trying to continue to train this person when you know they’re in the wrong position,” she said. “You have to weigh the pros and cons. We’ve made mistakes in that area, and the biggest mistake is keeping someone longer than we should have.”
Chandra is currently working on fine-tuning the company’s core processes—especially estimates—and becoming more efficient.
“Most of the really good automotive restoration shops won’t even provide an estimate because it’s so difficult to be on the money,” she said. “You never know on a project what you’re getting into until it’s back. We’re taking a 10,000-ft. view and determining which projects went well and why. What can we do to further increase production? How can we support production with the office personnel we have, and how can they facilitate a smoother flow of work through the shop? How can we make the experience better for our customers?”
Finishing projects strong, on time and closer to their estimate is what Proffitt’s Resurrection aims to do. If it can accomplish that, then it can bill for every hour and increase profitability from 6% to more than 20%, according to Chandra, who said she would like to increase both productivity and profit 4% to 5% in the next year to help with some of her benefits packages.
“We’ve got to increase efficiency so that I can pay for those programs,” she said. “We just want our customers to have a good experience from start to finish. We feel that if we have any weaknesses, it’s because we’re not finishing when we want to finish, and we want to fix that. We want people to not have to wait too long for their projects.”
Find a Mentor
Proffitt’s Resurrection has brought several custom-restored FJ Cruisers to the SEMA Show.
Chandra recommends that other small-business owners find mentors who provide specialized knowledge to help grow their companies. She also suggests reading some of the previously mentioned books.
“If you don’t set up your business right in the first place, the growing pains are so painful, and we haven’t been successful without an incredible number of growing pains,” she said. “When I’m hiring people, sometimes it’s nice to hire a newbie because they’re far more open-minded. You can mold them, and they ask questions. They’re not so solid and steadfast in their ways. It’s hard for people who are type A to ask if we can we do it a different way. Be able to step back and say, ‘I don’t know everything; maybe I should try to find an expert.’”
Proffitt’s Resurrection Land Cruisers
21474 Austin Rd.
Orchard City, CO 81410