Millennium Auto Collision Repairs in Kingsport, Tennessee, is truly a family affair. Owners Cassie and Charles Honaker employ their son Chaz, his wife Ashley, and Cassie’s father Bill also works for the company full time. Millennium was started by Cassie and Charles in 2005 and has gradually built to become one of the busiest auto collision repair shops in the area.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Cassie Honaker – Ashley is my daughter-in-law and married to my stepson Chaz Honaker. When they were in 6th grade, my husband Charles and I were chaperones for a school field trip and I was immediately impressed with Ashley. Even at age 12, she was calm, patient, and responsible. I came home from that trip saying to Charles that I had just met our future daughter-in-law. Ashley Honaker – A few years after that field trip, Chaz and I started dating and were married right after high school. Although I was busy with two babies, I started working at Millennium Auto Collision Repairs part-time and started full-time a few years after that.
How much importance do you place on volunteerism and giving back to your community? CH – We are getting ready to give away our third car in the past five years to a deserving student. I serve on the board of directors for H.O.P.E. (Help our Potential Evolve) Tri-Cities, an organization which seeks to educate local youth with life skills and ultimately help create future business and community leaders. Most recently, we have completely restored a car for a young lady in the H.O.P.E. program who has grown up with a very challenging home life. This car will help her get back and forth to college, where she a full-time student at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
How and why did you become an entrepreneur? Was it something you always intended for yourself? CH – When I graduated from ETSU in 2002, I became a case manager for Big Brothers/Big Sisters. I did that for about three years and then went to work for a company called Easy Seat. I will never forget the first question the interviewer asked me – to spell his name. It had been on all the interview paperwork, but he was interested to see if I had taken note of his long and unusual name (Chris Haythorne-Thwaite). He later told me that my ability to spell his name correctly and without hesitation was one of the reasons he hired me, because of my attention to detail.
At Easy Seat, I was working on computerizing their catalog ordering system and training others, but within a short space of time, Chris had started to encourage me to pursue our dream of owning our own business in the car repair industry. He actually provided half of the seed money that Charles and I used to start Millennium. We developed relationships with local dealerships by fixing cars for free so they could see the work we could do. In 2012, we received one of our big breaks by becoming a Geico insurance company direct repair facility and have been continuously growing our business each year.
What was your dream job as a kid and why? AH – I would still like to be able to spend more time building furniture, and it’s something I have always done as a hobby. CH – Growing up I wanted to be a teacher, and entered ETSU as an education major (Honaker ultimately earned a bachelor’s degree in Social Work). My two major passions have always been kids and cars.
Tell me about how you got into your line of work. CH – I have been told a story about me working with my dad, who managed and then owned his own body shop while I was growing up. I was around three years old, and my Dad had put me in the bed of a truck he was working on prepping for paint. When he would finish sanding an area on the side of the truck, he would hand me the dulled sandpaper sheet and I would lean over the side to ‘finish’ the job. I worked with my dad after school from elementary school through high school doing detail work, and sanding and prepping cars for paint. By age 15, I was handling accounts and learning the management side of the business. AH – I started out the same way as Cassie, working at Millennium as a teenager doing detailing and paint prep. Eventually, I started answering phones and assisting with ordering and invoicing. Now I handle customer service, act as an insurance company liaison, and manage the front office.
What have you learned about leadership, entrepreneurship and mentoring others? CH – We have a unique situation where we work side by side with several family members every day. Despite this fact, we also make an effort to spend special time together outside the workplace. It can be hard for me to act like a boss one minute and mother-in-law the next, but we manage to navigate this environment with lots of love for one another. AH – I love working in the same place with my husband. I know at any point in the day I can go in the back and get a hug if I need one. We hope that one day our children will want to continue in the family business.
What’s your superpower, or what’s your spirit animal? CH – I have a pretty big heart, and I seem to have an ability to automatically love everyone I meet. Our company motto is, “Although we may meet by accident, we will be friends for life!” AH – I try to make everyone around me happier, and I love being able to comfort people, especially those that are dealing with the trauma of a recent car accident.