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Decker Automotive earns 2023 chamber business of the year

Decker Automotive earns 2023 chamber business of the year Decker Automotive earns 2023 chamber business of the year

By Neal Hogden

Over the course of 35 years, Jim Decker has serviced tens of thousands of vehicles at Decker Automotive. He and his employees, his son, Lukas, and Chad Kayhart, have provided fast, accurate service to Abbotsford, Colby and the surrounding areas and now, they are being recognized for their expertise, as well as their commitment to the community.

The AbbyColby Crossings Chamber of Commerce has named Decker Automotive its 2023 business of the year.

Servicing thousands of vehicles might seem like quite the tall task to some, but to Jim, this has been what he wanted to do from the beginning.

“I always liked working on cars. I helped my dad with stuff. He’d moonlight out there and I always enjoyed doing it too,” Jim said.

The ability to combine a love for working on vehicles, and making money while doing it has allowed Jim to work while doing something he loves.

When driving through Abbotsford on Hwy. 13, you’ll see the Decker Automotive building on the west side of the highway at 415 South Fourth Street in Abbotsford. That location wasn’t always where people took their vehicles to get serviced by Decker.

The beginning of Jim’s career as part of the workforce came at 12 years old. His first job was working on area farms cleaning calf pens and making hay in the summer for some extra money. Using that money, he bought his first bike and as he grew older, he continued to work on and buy more machines.

A career that almost wasn’t

The decision to go into the field of being an auto mechanic wasn’t a cut and dry decision for Decker. He considered joining the Air Force after taking an aptitude test in which he tested extremely high.

“What I really wanted to do when I got out of school was to be an Air Force fighter pilot. I scored very highly in my aptitude tests – in the top one percent. They bugged me for 10 years after I got out of high school.”

After talking with his family about the potential life-changing decision, one factor caused him and his family to shy away from the Air Force and choose the workforce instead.

“I lost my brother in Vietnam. So I was the only son, the only child my parents had left. My dad said, ‘I almost got killed in World War II. Your brother got killed in Vietnam. We aren’t losing the only one we’ve got left,’” Jim recalled. “I did what they wanted because I didn’t want to cause too much trouble, but it is one thing I kind of wish I could have done.”

Despite his regret, he said his career as an auto mechanic was the next best thing he could have done.

In 1987, the 1985 Colby High School graduate was fresh out of tech school and set his sights toward being a mechanic. First, he needed a place to work. Decker said he got his first opportunity to work as a mechanic for Withee Oldsmobile in Withee. After working there for two years, the business sold and Decker was on the job hunt once again.

This time, he had a different plan. His home in rural Colby had a detached shed in which Decker thought he could create his own business and cement his passion of working as a mechanic while owning his own business.

“I always thought, if I’m going to get into the automotive industry, someday, I’d want to open my own shop. Well, someday came a lot faster than I thought it was going to,” Jim said.

In 1989, Decker Automotive LLC was formed and Jim began servicing a customer base that mainly consisted of family and friends. Jim’s father, Clarence, was essential to helping Jim grow his client base during the early years of Decker Automotive.

“I had a little bit of an advantage. My dad was retired at that point and he would come over and help me out if I needed a little extra help so I didn’t have to hire anybody at first,” Jim said. “A lot of people knew him so that helped me. They would say, ‘You’re Clarence’s boy. You must know how to work on cars.’That gave me a little confidence boost because everybody knew my dad.”

Starting his own business wasn’t without its lumps as Jim said he didn’t have a consistent revenue stream.


FOR ALL YOUR VEHICLE SERVICE NEEDS - From left to right: Chad Kayhart, Jim Decker and Lukas Decker make up the team at Decker Automotive. They have been awarded the AbbyColby Crossings Chamber Business of the Year award for 2023.


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“One of the toughest things those first few years was, you didn’t know what your income was going to be. You didn’t know where you’d be at for money because you might have a few good weeks but the next week you wouldn’t make hardly enough,” Jim said. “That was the challenge. It was so up and down. You don’t just put a sign on the door and then people are all of a sudden pounding it in. It takes time to build it up.”

Growth and expansion

As time went on, Jim held enough work to continue his business but a unique opportunity arose in 2007 when the quick lube station in Abbotsford went up for sale. Jim’s vision for a new and improved Decker Auto location sprung to life and he purchased the building. He said the new location came with its own challenges as a much more visible building on Hwy. 13 brought in much more business.

“The biggest thing to get adjusted to was the sheer difference in sales volume so quickly,” Jim said.

The business changed from a quick lube location that handled wiper changes, oil changes and other small tasks to a full-service location with ASE Certified Master technicians. He said, in the beginning, customers complained about the pace at which their vehicles were being serviced but Jim ensured them they were being taken care of.

“People said we were a little bit slower than the previous location used to be,” Jim said. “I told them, ‘Yep. Yes we are. Because we’re giving you a proper inspection from ASEtrained mechanics.’” He opened the business at the new location so quickly, he didn’t have a credit card machine the first weekend he was open and had to pull $500 out of his own bank account to provide change to customers paying in cash. He said his wife, Dana, who had taken off of work that day to help open the business, had to run to the bank multiple times throughout the day to get change.

“That was crazy. I’ll never forget, my wife looked at me and said, ‘Oh my God, what did we do?’ So she called into work the next day and helped me out again that day.”

Today, Jim calls the decision to move to the Hwy. 13 location a life-changing decision as his business increased exponentially.

As the business grew, Jim decided it was essential to add on to the existing building. In 2008, that vision came true as Jim built a two-stall, nearly 1,500 square foot addition onto the garage to help serve more customers and provide more repair services.

He said the addition was built with a special person in mind.

“My mom had passed away that year. We started putting concrete in and the last car ride my mom took, I had my dad drive up on the new concrete slab. I told them, ‘Well, you guys are the first one in the new shop.’” He said he was hoping to finish the building before his mother passed away but sadly, Wanda Decker passed away May 17, 2008, before the building could be completed.

“I came down the morning of my mom’s funeral and stopped in to talk to the guys and tell them I wasn’t going to be around much that day. I told the contractor, ‘We’ll be going by today. It’s too bad my mom will never get to see this place finished because she would have been real proud to see the building finished.’” Jim said the contractor brought two crews that day but said he really didn’t think much of it. What happened after his mother’s funeral took Jim by surprise.

“We drove by and all the construction workers were outside on the sidewalk with their hats off. Both crews stayed and they put all the steel on the building and put the doors up in the time it took us to have the funeral. So when we drove by with the hearse, the building was done on the outside. They got me that day. ”

“I talked to the contractor later and he said, ‘When you told me about your mother today, I told the other crew they were staying here because that woman is going to see a finished building when she goes past.’” The moment sticks out to Jim as one of the great moments in his life and a moment where he was very happy to have started his own business with the Decker name.

The future of Decker Auto

Jim has lived in and around central Wisconsin since birth but after a house fire in 2015, he moved to Phillips and commutes to work every day.

Jim said he plans to be in charge of the garage for another five or so years and said he has been working with Lukas to create a transition for the younger Decker to take over the family business.

He said he is excited to see what Lukas can do with the business and said he is a more than capable mechanic and business man. His adjustment to retirement however, is something he’s not so sure of.

“I’ve always worked. I don’t really know anything other than getting up in the morning and going to work,” Jim said. “When I go on vacation, I have a hard time relaxing. I look at the security cameras and see what the guys are doing. They get frustrated sometimes with me because I can’t just go on vacation. I’ve always been motivated to work because I’ve just worked my whole life and don’t know any better.”

Although the adjustment to retirement might be difficult at first, Jim said he will eventually be looking forward to spending more time with his grandkids, fishing and traveling to his wife’s home country of Croatia.

More than a garage

Jim and the crew at Decker Auto have done much more than provide a reliable mechanic service to the community. They have helped sponsor numerous area events and organizations including Abby Festival, Cheese Days, Colby-Abby Police Department, Colby Veterans of Foreign Wars, Marathon and Clark County D.A.R.E. programs, the K-9 program at the CAPD and more.

Jim said his donations to area police programs have been given because he believes the departments are doing lots of good in the communities.

He also said his donations to the Colby VFW are in honor of his brother and dad.

“The Colby VFW is the Huber-Schmitt-Bruesewitz-Decker post. The ‘Decker’ is after my brother. He is the only one in the VFW post that is a member that was killed in combat while being a member at that time.”

Decker said his feelings of the need to give back to the community that helped raise him and allow him to have a successful business will never change.

Kayhart helps run the Colby Cheese Days tractor pulls on First Street and Jim and his family help run a beer/drink stand during Cheese Days on the south end of the pulling area.

Jim said he appreciates the way the community has reciprocated his kindness but said he’d rarely turn new opportunities to do business with someone or to help someone in need.

“We could always use more business. No business can say they’ve got too much. We’d always like to see more of the community around here coming in because we do support the community and do things for the community. There’s a lot of things we do that a lot of people don’t realize.”

“I have never in all the years I’ve been here – if someone comes up to me and says, ‘Hey, so-and-so has got cancer. We’re doing a benefit. Would you like to donate?’Absolutely. I’ve never turned one person away for those benefits.”

Despite being willing to give to most causes, Decker said the only way he’d like to continue being honored for his service is for people to keep coming into his shop.

“I’m not looking for a bunch of glory or anything,” Jim said. “Even the stuff we give, doesn’t have our name attached to it or anything. It’s nice when our community honors us back with more work and business.”

Decker Auto joins Abby Market, Jakel Plumbing, Heating and Electrical, Kulas Body Shop and Thrivent Financial as the last five winners of the award. Kayhart also won the Abbotsford-Colby Area Community Service Award from the chamber in 2016.

Decker will be honored at theAbbyColby Crossings Chamber banquet onApril 20 along with other award winners.