While being the first woman to start a repo business in Surry County may be Tonya Ferguson’s claim to fame, don’t let this soft spoken 32-year-old fool you. She can repossess a vehicle in 15 seconds flat.
She started her business in August of 2009 after six months of research regarding the laws involved with starting such a business. She originally started out with the hopes of doing towing first, but the more she talked to friends who worked at banks and finance companies, they steered her toward the repossession business.
She said it was more cost effective for her to do the repossessions versus starting a towing business.
She drives a Ford F-350 four-door truck she uses in her repossession business. There is a sneaker snatch under the bumper, which enables her to tow away a vehicle quickly.
“It looks like a regular truck, which is very helpful when you are going into a neighborhood, they don’t really know what it is. It’s very high tech, and it’s helpful for what I do,” said Ferguson.
Before Ferguson decided to go into business for herself, she had worked at various jobs like bookkeeping and data entry. But because her son, Marlin, has mild cerebral palsy, severe mental retardation and is autistic, he is challenging to take care of, making it hard for her to have a regular 9-to-5 job.
“I’ve always had jobs where I worked for someone else and there was always that conflicting interest with me having to be off work a lot because of Marlin. So I thought, if I could just do it on my own, I could work my own hours because of doctor’s appointments and things. He gets sick a lot and I had to be out of work. Not a lot of employers like that,” said Ferguson.
Her son is 11-years-old, but mentally, he is only 4, she said. He doesn’t talk, still wears Pampers and drinks from a bottle. She said his food has to be pureed almost to a liquid form because he has so many sensory issues.
“He’s my inspiration and my motivation in everything that I do,” said Ferguson. “He’s very strong willed. When most people meet Marlin, they never forget him because he is very happy all the time, smiling, laughing — just a good kid,” said Ferguson.
She said this is his first year at Central Middle School.
“He has made such improvements in Ms. (Judy) Absher’s class. She’s a wonderful lady — very knowledgeable at taking care of kids with disabilities and has such great patience with him. You have to have patience with a child with disabilities,” said Ferguson.
She said every day at 1:30 p.m. he is picked up by a worker with Easter Seals who takes him for community outings and other activities.
When she first had her son, she struggled. She wondered why God would give her a child with his disabilities.
“I didn’t understand why He would make a child have to suffer. Until someone looked at me and said, ‘Girl, pull it together. He knew who to give that child to. Not just anybody could handle the stresses of an everyday thing with a child that has a disability.’ He told me that I should consider myself as the special one — and when I thought about it and the more the years have progressed, I know that I am the special one because he’s made me who I am today. He’s shown me that life has so much to offer. If you open your eyes and see that so many people take for granted what they have with a child and they don’t see the small things that really matter. I would really love to hear my son say, ‘I love you Mom’ and ‘Goodnight’ and he’s never said that,” said Ferguson.
She also tries to help other parents of children with disabilities.
“You don’t have to be a perfect parent. We were given kids, and were not given an owner’s manual. It’s trial and error. We are going to make mistakes. We are humans, but that’s where you learn from your mistakes and you move on. That child can really teach you a lot if you allow them to,” said Ferguson.
The name of Ferguson’s company is BGI, which stands for Bad Girl Image. She said she put her personality into the name.
“I like to talk to people and my goal each day is to make people laugh, because it makes me feel good to do that. But, I’m also real serious. When I get into something, I really zone into what I’m doing and my friends always say my face looks like I’m mad when I’m serious. So it’s just a fun thing for me. I abbreviated it BGI because I didn’t think it would be very professional when I walked into a business,” said Ferguson.
When she first started out, she went to see Bush Hamm with Freedom Finance at Surrey Bank, who gave her a chance.
“He basically took me under his wing and gave me all the work that he possibly could. He took me on my first job and said, ‘I’ll give you a try.’ Being a female, I think it’s hard for someone to take me serious and think that I am capable of doing the job as much as the next guy,” said Ferguson.
On that first job for Freedom Finance, she repossessed a vehicle Hamm had been searching for more than two years. After just seven days, she pulled into his parking lot with the vehicle.
“I was pretty excited and I think that helped him realize that I was very dedicated and determined,” said Ferguson.
She said business has been good for her and she now has 17 accounts with local banks, finance companies and title companies.
“It’s sad for everyone else, but it’s good for me,” said Ferguson.
Once she gets a fax from the company requesting that she go pick up a vehicle, she also gets a copy of the title and a sheet that contains personal information on the owner of the vehicle such as where they work and live as well as where their references live. She also can run traces on where the person is living now based on their power bills. Her first step is to go out to the home to see if the vehicle is there first. But she said most of the time, the vehicle is not at the owner’s residence and sometimes they don’t drive it to work for fear of having their car or truck repossessed while they are at work. She said it’s not unusual for people to hide the vehicles, which makes her job even more challenging.
“I’ve gotten some on the day I got the contract and some have taken up to three months to get,” said Ferguson.
Unfortunately for Ferguson, most titles do not contain the color of the vehicle, so that makes her job just a little harder. She not only has to know every make and model she’s looking for, but she also has to know whether or not the vehicle is front or rear wheel drive because she has to haul the vehicle based on which axle the drive is on. On all-wheel drives, she has to climb underneath and drop the drive pole to get the vehicle to move.
One of the down sides of her job is dealing with people who aren’t exactly happy to see their vehicle being towed away. She said she has been called every name in the book. She has been assaulted and once had a man spit in her face, which she said was the most degrading thing she has encountered so far.
“The thing about it is, that people don’t understand, this is my job. This is what I do. It’s no different than someone going to their office job. If they have a problem, they shouldn’t take it out on me, they need to take it up with the finance company or the bank. And that’s what I tell them, I’m just supporting me and my son.”
She said she also has encountered really nice people who are just down on their luck.
“I try to be compassionate toward all of them, even the ones that want to cause conflict with me. I try to remain calm and not want to have to use pepper spray or pull out a weapon,” said Ferguson.
Most of Ferguson’s work is done at night between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. when most people are asleep. She said she is not intentionally doing it to be sneaky, but that is just the least confrontational time to do it. The cover of night gives her more time to get her job done before the people can get dressed and come outside to confront her. She wishes more people understood that what she does is not a personal assault on them, she’s just fulfilling a contract with a bank or loan company to take back a vehicle when people quit making their payments.
Sometimes she gets lucky and the bank will have a key for her. In those cases, she will get friends to ride with her and all she has to do is drop them off and they both drive away. Once repossessed, she brings the vehicles back to her impound lot. She didn’t want to disclose the location, so that those who have had repossessed vehicles won’t try and get their car back.
She said most people want to get their belongings out of their vehicles, but she has learned that when they do that, it starts to become more personal and the person will tend to get more confrontational. She does, however, take things like purses, uniforms and child seats back to the resident’s home.
While owning her own business may seem glamorous to some, she said it takes a lot of hard work and dedication. Her costs for gasoline alone run about $90 a night. She said the insurance payments for her tow truck run about $6,000 a year.
She does repossessions all over North Carolina and Virginia. The farthest she has gone was to pick up a Ford F-350 in Mississippi that had been gone for three years.
Now that she has a well-established repo business, her ultimate goal is to be the first female on the Mount Airy’s Police Department’s towing rotation. She is now in the process of saving up for a roll-back wrecker.
“It’s a dream that I will work towards achieving every day,” said Ferguson.
Contact Mondee Tilley at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 719-1930.