The Doctor of Cars
Jasmine Rivera, the owner of Vellons, an auto shop in York, loves the people in her city, and it is pretty clear that they love her right back.
“I’m proud of what I do for them … they consider me not just as a business, but also as a friend,” she said. “I want to be the household name to take their car worries away; I want to be their doctor of cars.”
This single mother of three was born in New Jersey but moved to Pennsylvania in 1997 with her parents. Her father worked as a “home improvement guy; cars were never in our blood,” she said.
Although she dropped out of high school, Rivera worked hard to achieve her GED. She then went on to work in a variety of positions, but they always seemed to focus on what she is particularly good at and the trait that would someday make her a very successful business owner: customer service.
“I was working as a 911 dispatcher, which I really enjoyed, but in 2002 I quit that job to work as a secretary in my boyfriend’s auto shop,” she said.
So how did she go from answering the calls for repairs to actually making them?
“It was right after Pennsylvania started implementing emissions testing. We had vehicles coming in with the check engine light on, and we didn’t know what to do with them, so we kept turning them away,” she recalls. “One day I said, ‘Wait a minute; I’m gonna figure this out and fix it.’”
Rivera checked the codes online to indicate what the problem was. She “Googled it, watched videos, and studied it on the internet, and then I was able to fix it,” she said. “It was awesome! I kept doing them, and it got more exciting. I have no schooling for this; everything I learned was hands on.”
In 2012, Rivera became the owner of Vellons.
“At the time, I was with the original owner, E. Vellons, but we decided to part ways,” she said. Vellons hadn’t really wanted to be in the car business anyway, Rivera explained. “It wasn’t his passion. It was something his father wanted him to do.
“I said to him, ‘Why don’t you just sign the business over to me, and I’ll pay all the back bills and just take over,’” Rivera said. “That’s how I became the owner.”
It might seem as though Rivera would be a little nervous about becoming a business owner, but she wasn’t.
“I didn’t know what to be scared of. I figured I’d been fixing cars all these years for someone else, so why not try and do it by myself?”
At first, Rivera admits there were people who didn’t trust that a woman knew how to fix cars.
“They had to gain trust in me personally first, and I did that by being really interactive with them. Then I would have to keep their trust by proving my work,” she said.
Rivera has a very reliable team, including an administrative assistant, and her son, who works in the garage with her.
“We’ve got each other’s backs. We just bust out the work,” she said.
Yet she still finds that “people like to interact with me directly; they like to talk. I treat them like I’ve known them forever,” she said. “It’s a domino effect. If I do a good job for you, I’m going see your friends and your family coming to me too.”
Although it’s a necessary part of the job, Rivera doesn’t particularly enjoy installing parts.
“I will still do it, but diagnosing is the fun part,” she said. The challenge of finding what is wrong, how it got that way, and how she can fix it is what Rivera really enjoys.
“Someone was visiting a friend in the area, and he came in with an FJ Cruiser and said it needed a new engine, which seemed strange. They’re usually pretty good,” Rivera said. “I said, ‘Let me do some things before we go that far, and I’ll give you a list of parts. If it doesn’t work, you don’t have to pay me.”
She gave him a list of parts that she thought would get the car up and running without having to replace the engine, which he had been told by another garage. He agreed to let her try, and she fixed it.
“It ended up that a job that would have cost about $5,000 at the other garage cost him like $400. I was really excited about that,” she said.
Much of her community service is done in house, and Rivera likes to keep that confidential. But she is also happy to participate in career days at local schools, and has spoken to Girl Scout troops as well, telling her story about “what I do and how I got here,” she said.
Rivera does have an alter ego — she’s also known as Ratchet when she is competing as part of her York City Derby Dames roller derby team. The York City Derby Dames supports the York city community through public outreach events and activities, fundraisers, and charity sponsorships.
“I started that in 2013 because I was just feeling like I wanted to do something exciting and different in my local community,” she said. “It’s hard work, but it’s a lot of fun.”
The team is very supportive of each other, and although many of them have a lot to handle at home, “when we get together, we work as one unit to accomplish one thing and can forget about everything else that’s happening,” Rivera said. “We’re just basically a bunch of women who want to empower and support each other.”
Although today she is the proud owner of a successful business, Rivera said that it hasn’t always been easy. Yet she has learned a few valuable lessons along the way.
“I can do it all, despite the odds and all the naysayers,” she said. “My faith keeps me very strong. I’m motivated to do what I do, and I know my future is going to be fantastic.”