Reprinted from The Engine Block
Do what you love, the saying goes, and you will never work a day in your life. This can easily be dismissed as some trite platitude, a cliche that you’d find inside a fortune cookie. But for Joel Smith, and his young upstart team at Auto Definitions in Claremore, Oklahoma, it is so much more than that. It is their mission in life. “We all have the same dream,” Smith said about his young crew of automotive specialists. “Everybody at the shop is in it for the long haul.”
Centered around faith, family, and a true passion for what they do, the Auto Definitions team from America’s heartland is beginning to garner recognition for their custom work on a national level. And very soon—on a global platform. They’re one of the Sooner State’s leading aftermarket retailers and installers. They have a passion for top notch truck and Jeep builds. They even do odd jobs like window tint and spray-in bedliner. If doing what you love means you’re not working, then these guys put in countless hours a week, yet are completely unemployed. And that’s the way they like it.
The Beginning of a Long Journey
So many paths to a business’ success are crooked lines. They wind and meander through back roads full of potholes and dead ends. Auto Definitions’ origin story is one of these. Though it has been in existence for over 26 years, it has only been under Joel Smith’s ownership since the summer of 2017. And in a short 15 months, business is flourishing, busier than ever before. Their work is so respected that there’s a year-round estimated two-week waiting list just to get your ride in the shop, which customers seem happy to endure.
Smith did not always know that this would be his path. As a teen in his high school work program, he was able to “job out” and land an unpaid position shadowing the crew at Auto Definitions. When they weren’t financially able to offer him a paid position after graduation, he continued to show up anyway. For no money. For weeks and weeks on end. During this period, the shop owner, James Moore, became a mentor to Smith, and his skills for the trade were polished up by the veteran.
Not long after that, a spot in the shop opened up. Smith was hired and stayed with Auto Definitions for almost two years, learning the business inside and out. Surprisingly, this is not where the story ends. Something else was calling him, though he was not sure what. Smith had more life paths to try out before a commitment was made.
A man of devout faith, Smith originally left Auto Definitions for an opportunity within his church. And for roughly the next seven years, would continue to try and find out where in the universe he fit best. At one point, Smith even worked as a deputy sheriff and in the jail. He tried sales, and even a gig in the field of fiber optics. And throughout such a journey, Smith always remained involved as a volunteer firefighter.
Answering a True Calling
“I was so set on finding my purpose and calling,” Smith said. “I knew I had one. I was just trying to narrow it down, so that I could put full force into it.” Though he left all of these jobs on good terms, he struggled to find his true place and prayed on it regularly.
Finally that sign came, and in the form of a phone call. Moore, his old boss at Auto Definitions, wanted to know if he was serious about buying the place. Smith always thought he’d love to own the shop. He still built Jeeps in his free time and did some decent work out of his home garage, but the logistics seemed financially impossible.
This time, however, something felt different. He went to banks and family members, jumped through all the legal hoops. He worked out the details over a difficult nine month span. As things began to come together, Smith knew he had found what he was meant to do. “Each month was crazy,” he admitted. “But each month, I felt God showed me why I went through what I did.”
Assembling a Dream Team
And with the certainty of mind, he found in his new endeavor. Smith rolled up his sleeves and got to the business of making Auto Definitions his own. He brought in a bigger crew to take on more work. Locals say they’ve never seen the place so full, the parking lot jammed to capacity every day. The whole staff, passionate about what they do, is under 30 years old. Joel calls them the Dream Team or the Young Guns. Whatever you call them, they’re ready for the workload. “I have an amazing team behind me,” he said proudly.
“We’re taking it up a notch. We’re doing more custom things.” And those custom projects are really starting to make an impact on the industry. This past March, Auto Definitions had three separate builds featured in the 2018 Keystone Automotive BIG Show, an almost unheard-of distinction. And the accolades don’t stop there. Smith and his youthful crew have been invited to build a Dodge truck for the upcoming 2018 SEMA show this fall in Las Vegas. It’s a challenge they plan to take head on like they do everything else.
While they know that millennials don’t always have the best reputation when it comes to work ethic, the team at Auto Definitions shatters any preconceived notions about how their generation rolls up its sleeves and digs in. “We wanna be able to share the message with this up-and-coming generation: Don’t just sit there and do nothing.”
A Bright Future Ahead
And the team at Auto Definitions walks the walk—these guys definitely don’t believe in sitting around, passively awaiting work to walk through the doors. Apart from their super-busy full-time jobs, almost all of them are family men, with Smith and wife living the high of new parenthood.
The vibe they’ve cultivated around their workplace is so infectiously fun, that even television has come calling. While nothing is official yet, hints have been dropped their way that the gang at Auto Definitions would make one heck of a reality show. But rest assured that while they wait and see, Smith and his team will have a dozen other things going on at all times. Because they stay moving—it is their true calling and it makes them happy to do this work that they believe in so profoundly.
If idle hands are indeed the devil’s workshop, then the men of Auto Definitions are the demon’s toughest competitor.
-by Gerald Charles