Aaron with his daughter, Eden, in front of Cleanline Automotive in Invermere, B.C.
Aaron Van de Kemp runs an “earth-friendly” auto repair shop in Invermere, B.C. But his environmental approach is much more than just a marketing hook for his business. It’s part of who he is.
He and his wife Stephanie lead active lives of hiking and biking in the beautiful Rocky Mountain town west of Calgary. It’s fair to say that being green comes naturally to them.
“It just carried over from our personal lives. I wouldn’t say we’re hippies, but I guess we’re along that line,” he says with a laugh.
The 32-year-old owner of Cleanline Automotive is a gifted technician with an easy-going demeanour, a head for business, and a flair for explaining automotive concepts to consumers.
He’s also a community-minded shop owner with a personal mission to change the impression people have of the repair and service world. He believes a big part of the shop’s success is its clear mandate to minimize its impact on the environment.
Licensed tech Andrew Patterson, also known as “the Car Whisperer” at work.
“The customers really respond to it,” he says. “A lot of people will comment on our stance and say they appreciate that we’re putting our best foot forward.”
Stephanie agrees about the impact the green philosophy has had.
“It has been cool to watch Aaron apply his values to the business,” she says. “He started his own business because he wanted to promote certain values. One of those is caring about the environment. Another is caring about people, and taking the time to educate them and empower them when it comes to their vehicles. He’s really pushing the boundaries of what the industry can be.”
Aaron insists it is easy to be earth-friendly, even in the automotive world. He doesn’t use solvent-based brake cleaners or degreasers. Instead, he opts for more natural products that do the same job in a clean and non-carcinogenic way.
He also buys as little bottled fluid as possible.
“You have to have some, of course, but we buy most of our oil, antifreeze, and window washer in bulk to minimize packaging and waste.”
The wheel weights he uses are not the traditional lead variety.
“Wheel weights fly off all the time and end up in ditches to start impacting run-off water, streams, and the water table,” he explains. “So we’ll choose zinc or stainless steel weights, which have less impact on the environment. They cost marginally more, but it doesn’t affect the bottom line at all. You hardly notice it.”
He’s found inspiration in a similar business called Green Garage in Colorado, and he expects this kind of earth-friendly approach to become more standard within the automotive aftermarket because it does so much to improve the industry’s image in an increasingly environmentally sensitive culture.
To put his money where his mouth is, he donates $1 from every oil change to the Nature Conservancy of Canada , an organization that purchases sensitive natural areas and makes them available for non-motorized recreation such as biking and hiking.
It’s not their only charity contribution. They also set aside a certain amount of money each year to donate to local causes and community projects that they believe in.
The staff is fully behind Aaron and his eco-friendly outlook. Journeyman Andrew Patterson works in the bays, while service advisor Michelle Rievaj manages the front-end and keeps day-to-day operations running smoothly. Stephanie works from home, taking care of a lot of the paperwork and handling the marketing efforts – in particular the photography on the company’s well-designed and extremely inviting website.
On the site, Aaron is referred to as “the big wheel” while Stephanie is jokingly referred to as “the spare tire.”
The team at Cleanline Automotive
“Things are going really well,” he says. “Our services are in high demand. In fact, we were considering doing more advertising, but we’re growing enough just by word of mouth!”
Things are going so well, in fact, that Stephanie predicts that the next hurdle is going to be finding more space.
“With every change we make, it just feels like we’re keeping up again,” she says. “That’s a good problem to have, but it also means constantly thinking a year or two ahead.”
For Aaron, the success comes by being true to his values, and putting people first.
“You have to treat the people, not the cars,” he says. “That means addressing their concerns, teaching them about their vehicles, and then letting them make the decisions that are right for them.”
It is why he puts so much effort into educating his customers.
“The more you know about something, the more comfortable you are with it,” he says. “We want people to be comfortable buying service for their cars. And we want them to feel comfortable working with us.”