Kipp and Candice Van Zile: From Rock Bottom to Rock Solid

Jan. 18, 2024
The peaks and valleys of a couple's pursuit of shop ownership.

Kipp Van Zile dreamed of owning an auto repair shop, but his journey to ownership felt like a nightmare. 

“While I wouldn’t take a million bucks to lose the experience, I wouldn’t take a million bucks to go through it again either,” Van Zile, owner of QIS, LLC (dba as Quality Import Service) in Elkhart, Indiana, says. “But hey, (it’s about) growing, maturing, being able to be OK with an outcome.” 


Pursuing the Dream

Van Zile met his wife Candice, who serves as the shop’s office manager, 30 years ago while working in a factory making headliners for Buicks. The two started dating when Van Zile offered to fix the brakes on Candice’s car. 

While Van Zile held jobs in Indiana and later Michigan, Candice learned she was pregnant. When their daughter Michele was a year old, the family, which included Candice’s 7-year-old son, Matthew, from her first marriage and her 6-year-old daughter Mariah (Candice’s adopted niece), moved to Phoenix, Arizona, so he could attend United Technical Institute Automotive School. Van Zile went to UTI during the day and worked at AutoZone at night before graduating in the top 10 in his class. 

That led to Van Zile being accepted into the Mercedes program, where he trained in Rancho Cucamonga, California, while Candice stayed in Phoenix with the children. On weekends, they would make a four-hour drive to California, living in a hotel room for four months. 

“The ring that I got for being master certified, Candice says that’s her ring,” Kipp Van Zile says. “She earned it … All I did was take the test and study a little bit. She did a lot of heavy lifting when we were separated—separated for me to learn.” 


A Temporary Derailment

Van Zile later worked for a Mercedes dealership in Petaluma, California, for a couple of years before the family’s situation changed drastically. 

“We were young and irresponsible and stupid and didn’t know a whole lot and did everything backward. (We) had three kids first and then tried to build a career, so we got ourselves into some financial difficulties and ended up homeless,” Candice says, noting those financial difficulties eventually led to the family being evicted from a rental home. 

The family lived in a tent at a KOA campground and stayed in a motel before moving to a homeless shelter. Candice says while saving up money, they fit five people into one room with a full-sized bed and a couple of bunk beds at the shelter. 

“Every couple of weeks, we’d go stay in a hotel, and then we’d go back to the campground again,” Candice says. “The kids never realized we were homeless. We made sure of that. They thought we were just spending the summer camping, and they thought it was cool. 

“I’ve not been able to get Kipp to go camping ever since. He says he did a lifetime's worth of camping in one summer, and he’s never going again.” 

Van Zile says he and Candice relied on their faith to help get them through the situation. 

“There wasn’t ever a day that we didn’t eat,” he says. “There wasn’t ever a day that we couldn’t do the daily things to keep our family safe, and I credit that to God. He took care of us. Sometimes He has to put you in places for you to appreciate the places He’s going to take you to. It was a very humbling and embarrassing experience for me, but I learned a lot from it. I learned things that I never want to do again. I’m not saying I won’t be in that spot again, but I’m saying that I’m going to avoid everything that I can that got me there—the bad decisions, things of that nature. 

“I knew that things were going to be OK, but I also knew this wasn’t going to be over overnight. We didn’t get here overnight, and I was pretty sure we weren’t going to get out of it overnight.” 


Seizing Opportunities

Van Zile eventually landed a job in Santa Barbara, California. The family stayed in the area for a few years before his grandmother passed away, and the family returned to Michigan to help care for his grandfather, who had dementia. 

He landed a job at the shop in Elkhart, but during the interview process, the owner said he planned on retiring and was looking for someone to take over the business. He eventually did and offered Van Zile the option to buy him out. 

The couple eventually sold Van Zile’s grandparents’ house, helping them put a down payment to buy the shop, which they took over in 2019 to make a dream come true. 

“When we bought this shop, we almost didn’t get it,” Van Zile says. “The analogy I always use … the figurative poker chips; we just pushed those all to the center of the table and said, ‘Hey God, it’s on you. We’ll be right here. You let us know which way we’re going.’ There’s something about knowing that because of my faith, God will take care of me. It didn’t matter if I got the shop. That was a huge burden off my back. I didn’t have to do it anymore.” 

Candice says it’s also bittersweet because in quick succession, Van Zile lost his grandfather, mother, and father. Candice’s mother died, too. 

“It just felt like every time we thought we didn’t know what we were going to do next, something happened that showed us what direction we were going in and what we needed to do,” she says. “Kipp always says that he wishes so much that his parents could be here to see that he succeeded and has the business, but at the same time, he knows that because they passed away, we have the business …” 

Van Zile says he’s gotten some perspective on the journey to becoming a shop owner. 

“Now that I have the shop, I look back and I say, ‘Well, this is just a bad day. Look at everything you’ve been through,’” he says. “It’s nothing compared to that. Just take a deep breath. You’ll be all right.” 

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