Sam Craven: Going Beyond the Finish Line 

March 18, 2024
Owner of The Garagisti Sam Craven helped establish one of the biggest real estate investment companies in Houston–but it wasn’t enough.

Starting a business comes with a lot of trials and tribulations—something Sam Craven has learned firsthand from opening and running two of his own businesses. He was in the unique position of having experience from already launching and running a first business that he was able to put to use when he opened the Garagisti, a European repair shop in Houston, Texas. 

In this conversation with Ratchet+Wrench, Craven opens up about how he found his path toward auto shop ownership and the difficult lessons he learned along the way that made him the success he is today. 


Not a Race, But a Journey 

Craven has lived all over the state of Texas but has considered Houston home since elementary school. The passion he had for racing remote-controlled cars as a child was a precursor to what lay ahead for him: at age 16, he began racing cars in real life before going on to work on race teams as a professional racecar technician throughout college.  

From working on race teams with Ferrari Challenge to Pro Mazda, Craven had the opportunity to travel across the country with them, fulfilling a lifelong dream of working around race cars. He took every chance he could to gain insight from the professionals around him. 

“Working on race cars, and (with) the people who can spend $40-$50,000 a weekend racing cars, puts me around some pretty successful entrepreneurs, and I’d usually end up talking to them, bugging them: ‘What made you successful?’ ‘What’s your story?’,” says Craven, “and doing everything I can to learn from them.” 

Upon graduating college with an engineering degree, Craven went into a sales engineering position but found himself spending more time than he’d like sitting at a desk. He knew he needed to get out. 

After a year of working in sales, Craven worked for a large manufacturing company based in Indiana where he oversaw a five-state sales territory. Around a year later, Craven started a real estate investment company with his father. Another year later, Craven left his job with the manufacturing company to focus full-time on his first business. 

The company specialized in selling single-family homes to people interested in renting out properties, and it soon became one of the largest rental investment companies in Houston. 

Much of the success he’s experienced with the Garagisti is credited to the experience he gained from the difficulty of operating his first business. After seven years, he burned out and considered pursuing a different path. He sold his share of the company to a business partner and took a few months to figure out what would be a better fit for him. 

Opening the Next Chapter 

There were many aspects he excelled at in his first business that he wanted to use in another way: customer service, sales, and building trust with customers. When he had the idea to combine these talents with a love for automotive, the seeds for the Garagisti had been planted. 

“When I got out of that business, I'm like, ‘How do I combine everything I love about business and life all into one business?’” recalls Craven. “Well, I love cars—I love racing, I’m racing as often as I can—more importantly, I love business, and I love creating a memorable customer experience and building that trust with the customer. So I'm like, ‘This is the perfect way to bring together everything that I love in one place.’” 

Upon embarking on the path of auto shop ownership, Craven soon realized that an auto repair’s customer base is similar to that of real estate investment in one way: customers have low expectations and are weary of being taken advantage of. Craven credits this to gaps in knowledge between the provider and the consumer creating an uneven balance that can be easily exploited.  

In this environment, building a relationship of trust with a customer is what will set a business apart from others. 

“When we built our real estate business up, we built it up on the reputation that we're going to take care of our customers,” explains Craven. “And that served us incredibly well, and we've done the same thing in the car repair business.” 

After the trials and errors he went through with his first business, Craven was weary of making further mistakes. Before even beginning the process of starting the Garagisti, he worked to identify gaps in knowledge he had and who he could turn to for insight. He enlisted a coach to meet with, who reviewed Craven’s plans alongside him. The coach pointed out the strong points of his plan and the weak points, helping him devise the best possible strategy. 

“One thing being in business—with my previous business that I had for about seven years—taught me is that you don't know everything. And as soon as you think you know everything, your butt's about to get kicked,” says Craven. “So you better find some people to help you figure out everything that you don't know.” 

Since the beginning of his career, Craven’s willingness to learn is what has propelled him to success. Not only does he now get to chase his lifelong passion for cars but has learned how to set a business in place that can run efficiently even when he isn’t there, allowing for him to spend time with his wife as they prepare for the birth of their first child.  


Running Like Clockwork 

With both Craven and his wife owning their own businesses, it’s important for them to set aside time each year to be with one another. The two typically schedule a summer vacation each July, but when the opening date for Garagisti’s most recent location in Katy, Texas, was postponed by two months, Craven was only able to be present for opening day before embarking on a month-long trip with his wife. 

When he checked in with his store manager to see how things were going, he didn’t have much to report; everything was running swimmingly. His staff shares the same enthusiasm and dedication to the business that he does, and he does his best to foster such an attitude so that everyone at the Garagisti can thrive. 

“I don't think I deserve all the credit for this business going smooth. I think a lot of that credit goes towards the managers and the people that I have,” notes Craven. “One thing that I know for sure is if you're doing something you love, and you're creating opportunity for a lot of people around you, that the money will take care of itself.” 

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