Kailua native Matthew Barros began towing cars and trucks at 18, and after five years of working for other companies he decided to make it his career.
Today he’s the owner of Empire Towing & Recovery LLC, a 24/7 towing and roadside service company serving O‘ahu that in about eight years has grown to 13 employees, eight tow trucks, and contracts with the U.S. Army and insurance companies such as GEICO and State Farm.
“This is a market with a lot of competition in it, but we pride ourselves in customer service and being on time,” said Barros, whose company also towed for the Honolulu Police Department’s Wahiawā/North Shore district from 2014 to 2016. What else sets his company apart? “Having newer equipment,” he says, as well as professional development for his drivers, who travel to Las Vegas for training on handling luxury vehicles. “We send our drivers out there so they can be trained by the professionals.”
A turning point was receiving a Mālama Loan from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs about a year into the business. Business had been picking up, and in order to expand he and his then-girlfriend needed a loan to buy more trucks. But banks declined. Not enough time or experience in business, they were told. Barros turned to OHA after an aunt told him about the agency’s loan program.
“Thank you to Mr. Robert Crowell over there at OHA who approved our loan and helped us get this thing going,” Barros said. “We really appreciate somebody believing in us and allowing us to have a chance. We took that loan and we ran with it, and we’re a successful company today. I’d like to thank the people at OHA who had this program and allowed us to be great and do great things.”
Barros recalls early in his career working for other companies and how he struggled financially when equipment broke down and he was told to stay home from work. That was the incentive to start his own towing company – he wanted steady work. As a boss, he has additional incentive to succeed. “I just want to provide a steady job for my guys and I think that’s what the focus of the company is – it’s making sure our guys every day have work. That they have enough money to take home and take care of their families.”
It’s a family affair in other ways too. A nephew who started working for him at the outset remains with the company. In addition, “My fiancée runs the office. My oldest daughter helps with paperwork and my youngest one (who is 4) destroys paperwork,” he says tongue-in-cheek. “It’s something she can draw on.”