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'Hobby' becomes full-time business

Staff writer

It is not unusual to see a yard full of semis, cars, farm equipment, and trucks of all shapes and sizes on the Krch family farm, four miles west of Lincolnville. They are awaiting professional service from Kevin Krch of Krch Automotive and his three full-time mechanics.

Krch has been involved in mechanics almost his entire life. His father was a farmer and also worked as a mechanic. From the time Krch was a toddler, he spent time with his father in the shop. He grew up helping his father keep farm machinery repaired.

Krch said he was an active youngster and didn’t like to sit still. That’s why school was hard for him. He got good grades and was smart, he said, but he couldn’t sit through eight hours of classes. He skipped school whenever he could.

When he was 11, his parents, Florian and Ruth Krch, sold the farm land, and Krch started working for other farmers. As he got older, he played hooky more and more, much to the frustration of his parents and teachers. Finally, at age 15, he dropped out altogether to go to work full time.

“I don’t recommend it to others,” he said. “I was lucky.”

He worked at various truck stops and automotive shops, honing his knowledge and skills and receiving specialty training along the way. He provided his own tools.

He lived at home most of that time and continued to live at home after his parents divorced. Krch’s father died when he was 21, and he became the fourth generation of Krchs to own the homestead.

In 2000, Kevin married Kelly Streeter, a social worker living in Lincolnville.

That same year, Krch secured a contract to service Kansas United Parcel Service trucks in a shop provided for him in Emporia.

Five years later, he built a shop on the farm for his personal use and as a second place to service UPS trucks. He later hired a mechanic to work in his shop in Emporia while he maintained the home shop.

“I didn’t plan on making a business out of it,” he said. “It just sort of happened.”

The shop turned into a full-time business after a friend asked Krch to work on his semi. He started getting calls from others, and the business took off from there. He had to hire another mechanic and eventually expanded to three. His wife is the full-time bookkeeper.

The steel-sided barn that stands next to the shop has been renovated to store parts and supplies. It also contains an air-conditioned office.

Krch estimates he has at least $250,000 worth of tools including computer software and hardware. He continues to manage the Emporia shop and UPS contract.

Krch Automotive serves local businesses and farmers, but 80 percent of the business comes from over-the-road truckers.

Krch said the most difficult part of the business for him is the amount of time he is required to spend in the office. He would rather spend more time in the shop. As his business has grown, he has had to spend more and more time searching for parts online, ordering parts, writing service tickets, and answering the phone. He gets 50 to 60 calls a day. In addition, he tries to keep up with the changes in automotive technology, studying online or talking to others.

Sometimes he works in the shop during the afternoon and then works at his desk until the wee hours of the morning. He tries to spend weekends with Kelly and their two sons, Seth, 7, and Nicholas, 5.

Krch has occasionally considered moving his business to a new, expanded location. But with the economy down and the challenges the present size presents, he is content with the business as it is.

“I’m good at what I do but I don’t want to get any bigger,” he said. “I don’t need a lot of money to be happy, and I want to enjoy life.”

Last modified Oct. 14, 2010

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