In early 1996, Emilie Kernisan opened Desert Star Claims with the idea of relieving clients’ stress after their cars were vandalized. About one month later, the entrepreneur experienced this firsthand.
“You really feel outraged and violated,” says the owner of the Tempe, Arizona-based auto electronics repair business. “The economic and emotional costs are so great.”
She and a six-person staff work their magic to appease their clients and make their cars look new. The company handles auto vandalism repair and replacement involving electronic devices, such as car stereos. An insurance company will come directly to her or refer their insured client. In turn, the insurance company pays Kernisan for the repairs via the client.
First, the damage is assessed, and in-house technicians who specialize in car interiors and stereos repair the damages, averaging four to seven cars daily. They also subcontract out any repairs that they can’t do themselves, such as glass repair, as well as make house calls.
Kernisan first got the idea for her business three years ago, after graduating from the University of Arizona Law School. Although she had no experience, advice from friends, some research and $30,000 from personal investments put her on track. Three months later, the Haiti native opened shop.
However, opening the business was the easy part; Kernisan now had to compete in a male-dominated field. She was dealing with an insurance industry, she says, that looks for integrity and reliability and quickly gets comfortable using the same claims repair service.
“It’s very difficult to convince them to give somebody else a chance, especially when that somebody is new and untested. We had to take the time to be tested so the insurance companies would learn to depend on us and know we were in for the long haul.”
Kernisan contacted insurance companies, and through perseverance was finally able to get a foot in the door. About one month after the grand opening, California Casualty in San Mateo became her first client.
Kernisan soon obtained other clients, and turned a profit 14 months after opening. Last year’s revenues were $300,000, and this year Kernisan is on her way to doubling that.
With business booming, Kernisan has long-term expansion plans. She’d also like to cultivate relationships with similar companies in other states and wants to open more offices throughout Arizona.
“My goal is to make a presence in our community,” she says. “I want to help people understand how to protect themselves from crime and keep their insurance rates low.”
Desert Star Claims, 1820 W. Drake Drive, Suite 105, Tempe, AZ 85283; 602-777-8518