Automotive service shops are a tough game to play in. The dealerships do everything they can to hold their customers captive to their own service department. Obtaining factory diagnostic tools and information can be difficult and is always very expensive.
Cars continue to get more and more sophisticated and have become, quite literally, high speed networked computers and sensors on four wheels. Even something as seemingly simple as a brake job may require the assistance from the car’s computer to accomplish. Alignments on cars with electric power steering will also need to be done in sync with the car’s computer in order to ensure the steering knows where center is.
Independent automotive service facilities must make a big investment in equipment as well as technically astute personnel needed to operate them if they are to stay competitive with dealership service.
Still independents abound and jumping into the fray takes skill, business knowledge, money, and having the confidence to know that you can make it.
This morning I visited a new shop in Raleigh, Torque Automotive, and was prepared to find a guy who maybe had worked in a local dealership for a few years and got the yen to try his hand at his own business. Then I met Simon.
Simon started out in South Africa and worked at dealerships there for several years until he moved to Dubai where he got a job at the largest BMW dealership in the world. He started out as one of nearly 90 technicians there and worked his way up in a few years to managing them.
Simon had a dream of moving to the United States and had applied well in advance of the day when he was granted the move back in 2012. By then his resume was complete with experience in many European makes as well as being a master tech with BMW. So you would expect him to end up at a dealership or an independent that specialized in those makes. But he took a little different path.
Even four years after the recession, finding that kind of work in the area was tough and so he went looking for existing automotive service businesses for sale. One promising opportunity popped up and he went to check it out. The service side of an independent car sales shop was losing money. That part of the business was for sale, but it turned out to be well above Simon’s resources at the time. So he negotiated a deal where he would manage the service side of the business for a percentage. Over time things improved greatly. Within a year a profit was seen and by the end of three years the staff had grown from one tech to three.
Now he was ready – and so was born Torque Automotive.
Simon gave me a tour of the shop, which is only a month or two old at this point, but he already had five cars in for service and plenty of space to accommodate them.
The shop has been freshly painted and the floors in the shop area have been professionally coated with a heavy duty epoxy finish that not only reflects light under the cars, but is easily kept clean as it is impervious to any fluids used in servicing.
He has a unique company car, a Smart Car, by Mercedes Benz, with a twist, Tesla has converted it to an all electric.
It is Simon’s daily driver and has an eighty mile range. The perfect commuter car and a great way to let people know about his shop.
Simon understand where the automotive service business is going and is quite prepared to keep up with the changes looming on the horizon. He is also building a following of loyal customers.
Its nice to see these better alternatives to being a captive of the car manufacturers and the dealerships that sell them.