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Worcester’s Family Businesses: Mill Street Motors

Friday, May 24, 2013

 

All in the family: Ed Proko, of Worcester's Mill Street Motors.

While Ed Proko and his wife Beth agree the term ‘used car salesman’ may have picked up a less than favorable connotation in our language, their family business is working hard to flip that perception on its head. Ed and Beth, owners of Mill Street Motors, pride themselves upon their unique business model and community engagement.

Since 2001, the Prokos encountered their share of unforeseen challenges. With today’s economy, consumers often keep their cars longer, unable to find affordable vehicles in the market. Ed and Beth, however, work night and day to maintain a quality inventory within a variety of affordable price ranges, while maintaining their competitive edge.

Lifelong residents with deep roots in Worcester, the Prokos love cars and their community. Ed’s grandfather opened a fruit-stand business in the 1940s which planted the seed of interest in business and community. Today, the couple pass along their growing business legacy to their two daughters, both 12 and 15 respectively, who enjoy helping out after school.


Tell me a little about the entrepreneurs in your family when you were growing up.

Ed: My dad, his two brothers and his sister all worked in the family business. He worked tirelessly, knew everyone and was so proud of the family name. As a boy, I worked in the greenhouses and went on deliveries with my dad. My grandfather on my mom’s side was also a builder in Worcester.

Can you talk a little bit about what motivated you to found your company?

Ed: I always loved cars. At 22, I bought a gas station in Worcester. Eventually I realized I wanted to repair and sell cars, so I opened North End Motors on West Boylston Street in 1983. In 2001, I sold North End and opened Mill Street Motors.

Why did you choose to start a business in Worcester?

Ed: I was born and raised in Worcester. My family had the business here and I was always inspired by their hard work and determination. I believed in Worcester and never considered starting a business somewhere else. This was where my friends and family were and therefore a good place to start and grow my business.

With so many car sales lots in and around Worcester, what makes your business model unique?

Beth: Ed has been buying cars for resale for 30 years, and is a certified mechanic. He really knows what he's buying. Ed is connected to what people are looking for, and we also don't have sales people. When someone come in, they work with Ed or myself. Working together, we ensure each customer has the best experience possible. It’s rewarding for us to help those who maybe had a financial hardship and deserve another chance. Often times a small car loan is the first step for people working to resolve credit issues.

Over the years, what development would you say has had the most impact on your original plan? How has your plan changed in response?

Ed: I would have never envisioned computers being such a part of my plan way back when. We were probably one of the first dealerships around to feature actual inventory on our website many years ago. Now our site offers the ability to apply for financing online. People have flown in from different parts of the country to buy cars from us! I would never have envisioned how powerful the internet would be as a tool for our business.

What challenges have remained the same since you started?

Ed: Overcoming people's perception of car dealers can be tough some days. It's hard not to take it personally when people automatically think your goal is to take advantage of them. Everyone wants the best car for the least money and to be treated well, and that’s our goal with every customer.

Can you tell me about your engagement and outreach in the community?

Beth: We are members of community and business groups throughout the city. Ed and I believe businesses should play a role in the community beyond just writing a check. I was president of the Nelson Place School PTO where I led the efforts to build a playground at the school. We also helped create the Worcester Citizens for Business in 2009, which is focused on issues surrounding business retention and economic development.

What advice do you have for others who are thinking about entrepreneurship?

Beth: Never miss an opportunity to learn or share. Have a plan but don't be afraid to change it. In a small business, no two days are the same, it’s never going to be like the day you envisioned.

George Charles Allen is founder of The Worcester Regional Flight Academy and serves on the board of Music Worcester.

 

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