It was barely a week before her niece's wedding, and Carol Miller had a to-do list a mile long. Among the usual preparations, a slew of out-of-town houseguests were coming to Columbia, Missouri, for the big day, and Carol had offered up her home as a place to stay. It wouldn't seem such an ambitious gesture if not for one important detail — Carol, who had been living with her daughter for the past four months since moving back to town, was days from closing on her new house.
"So there I was, days from closing, with all of these people coming to stay with me, and the bank pulls out," she says, almost as if she still can't believe it. "My niece was getting married days later."
A few banker friends had mentioned to Carol even before she applied for a home loan that because of the 2008 crash, they didn't think she'd be able to get a home loan with her "new business owner" status. So when she actually went into the first bank to fill out paperwork for the loan, and the loan officer acted like it was going to be a breeze, Carol was pleasantly surprised.
"Come to find out, the banker hadn't done her homework," Carol says.
Three days before closing, she told Carol that her "new business owner" status was blocking the loan from going through. Panicked, Carol called the realtor to let him know what happened. The idea of finding another bank willing to back her, let alone come through on such short notice, felt overwhelming to say the least. But the realtor wasn't ready to give up just yet and suggested that Carol call Leighanne Lamb at Landmark Bank.
"Landmark came to my rescue," Carol says. "I don't know how Leighanne did it, but she helped me close the loan in days so I could close on the house."
Carol moved in just 6 days before her guests arrived.
"Leighanne was my knight in shining armor," she adds.
'She took the time to learn my story'
Anyone who knows Carol would probably be surprised she'd have trouble finding a home loan. The owner of Central Missouri Auto Body in Columbia, Mo. she came into the loan process with a great job and plenty of equity. But on paper, being a new business owner was a red flag.
"I was out of the business for three years before buying it back," Carol says. "And that's what the first bank saw — that I was new business owner. But I wasn't new — I was part of that business since it started."
Carol and her ex-husband opened Central Missouri Auto Body in Boonville more than 35 years ago, and they ran it together for the better part of three decades. In 2003, recognizing a need in the market for more independent shops, they moved the business from Boonville to Columbia. In 2011, the couple divorced, and Carol's ex-husband ran the shop on his own for the next three years. But in 2014, he decided he was done. That's when Carol bought the business back and became sole owner. She moved back to Columbia and started looking for a place to call home.
"I think my mindset going into the home loan process was, 'Why would anyone turn me down?'" Carol says. "Not that I take it personally that they did, but I think Leighanne was able to get past the new business owner aspect because she took the time to learn my story. She could see my financial position and knew that I was part of the business for all those years."
'We get our work done, and we do it well'
Although the home loan process surprised Carol, it wasn't the first time she faced difficulty finding financial backing. Months earlier, when she was looking to buy the business, she went to three local banks before getting a loan.
"All three turned me down," Carol says, "and I think partly because of the bias against a woman running a male-dominated business like a body shop. One of the loan officers at another bank, and it was a female loan officer, actually said, 'How do you think you're going to run that business?' She acted like I hadn't been a part of it."
Much of Carol's early years at Central Missouri Auto Body were spent behind the scenes, where she kept the books and handled payroll and taxes, but today Carol is very much front and center. As the leader of the business, she's the face of the company, and she's learned a lot over the past three years about the industry and adapting to the ebbs and flows of business.
"I love it," Carol says of coming to work every day. "I never anticipated I'd have an all-male staff, but I do, and it's a great group of guys who get along well, help each other and do really great work. I come into the shop whistling or singing — I just love coming in every day. And I think they love it, too. I hope they consider it a fun place to work. We get our work done, and we do it well, but we enjoy what we do."
As Carol continues growing in her role as leader, the company is growing as well.
"We're looking to expand," she says of what's next for the business. "We'd like to have more space for parts so we can continue producing more work. We definitely stay busy, and I intend to be here for a long time."
She plans to stay in house for a long time, too.
"It's close to work, has a wonderful floor plan and enough space for family when they come home," she says. "I have three grown daughters, a grandson and a new granddaughter. One of these years, I imagine I'll have holidays at my house, and this is a home we can all enjoy together."
For more about Central Missouri Auto Shop, visit centralmoautobody.com.
Back to Blog