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European Adventures

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A husband and wife team find success specialising in European cars, and offering what main dealers cannot.

Supply and demand. It’s the basic ingredient to any successful enterprise. If your business services a genuine need and you do well at it, positive results should always follow. The formula has paid dividends for husband and wife team, Adrian and Andrea Matthews, with their garage specialising in prestige, European and late model car servicing and repair.

Known simply as The Garage, the workshop is based in Victoria’s Macedon Ranges at Woodend, some 70km north west of Melbourne. The business has enjoyed rapid expansion in its five years of life, highlighting how the couple were correct in their belief the region needed a garage with such specialist focus.

“When looked at what kinds of vehicles people were driving locally, and typically there were lots of higher end cars, especially large SUVs like Mercedes MLs and Volvo XC90s,” Andrea said. “We knew these people weren’t being well serviced locally. Most had to travel an hour to Bendigo or an hour to South Melbourne to the prestige dealerships, although a few have opened in Essendon recently.”

Andrea said some local garages were turning customers away due to the complexity of certain European vehicles, particularly French cars, which fortunately Adrian has a big passion for. Well, someone has to!

“We looked at how we could serve customers that would normally drive that hour to a main dealer,” Andrea explained. “People come to us for a variety of reasons, but convenience is key. Value too. We know some main dealers charge anything up to $300 per hour, while we give a much more reasonable rate for very similar service, minus the barista on the door. We find customers usually come back. They don’t need to be spending $1000 every time they have an oil change. That’s ridiculous.”

Adrian has been factory trained across numerous European brands, and previously worked for main dealers in the UK and Adelaide. Andrea had just left behind a corporate career, so the couple combined skills and it all started with a small workshop. “We thought we’d get enough work for Adrian to service customers from Monday to Thursday, then he could work on his own stuff on Friday and Saturday. Now we’ve got a three-and-a-half week waiting list. Cars are everywhere!”

Today there are three office staff and five qualified technicians on the tools, with a third year apprentice as well. There are five two-post hoists, a relocatable hoist, wheel alignment equipment and provisions for another two or three bays. The Garage is housed in a giant shed, and, impressively, is spotlessly clean, much like a metropolitan main dealer.

“We knew there was an opening in the market for our specialist services, but we didn’t want to take work away from established local businesses,” Andrea said. “There’s the local 4×4 guy, and garages specialising in more typical Australian brands, your Fords and Holdens. Adrian and I joke we didn’t grow up on Australian cars (they’re British natives) like Falcons and Commodores, so we need our Aussie mechanics to translate these for us. The strength of a larger team is each expertise in different areas.”

Challenges include educating late model car owners that services can take place at independent garages while the car is under warranty. “No matter what car it is, they get the same level of service and attention,” said Andrea. “It could be a 10,000km service on a Honda Jazz or 200,000km on a BMW. It gets the same level of inspection. A first main dealer service, your car probably doesn’t spend as much time on a hoist as it would here. Some customers recognise that, asking us how a car can be serviced in half an hour?”

The team farm out certain specific jobs to other businesses, such as full engine rebuilds or carburettor work, but Adrian has a passion for classics and the more obscure. “He says he’s never been beaten by a car, even if it takes hours of head scratching and research,” Andrea said. “We look after an East German Trabant, right now I’m looking at two Jaguars – an E-Type Roadster and an XJS – and there are a couple of Ferraris we work on. Every day we have no idea what will arrive on the forecourt, and we really like that.

” The rapid advance in car technologies doesn’t phase them either. “If you want to be a workshop that survives into the future and serves your customers, you’ve got to get your head around new technology,” Andrea said. “It’s not going away. We’re having to teach ourselves constantly about all the latest electronic wizardry, understand the capabilities of the diagnostic machine, and we’re keeping an eye on hybrid systems for servicing those.”

Andrea said better information sharing between OEMs and independents would be key in future. She praised Volkswagen for leading the way in this area, but more collaboration across all brands was needed. “It’s competitive, but the end game is getting the customer back on the road, with the best quality job at an affordable price,” she said.

“If You Want To Be A Workshop That Survives Into The Future And Serves Your Customers, You’ve Got To Get Your Head Around New Technology.”

The TAFE training for apprentice mechanics also needs to move with the times, said Andrea. “We don’t feel the syllabus keeps up with what’s happening in the car parc. There’s too much of a focus on ten-year-old cars rather than all the newer technology, and that’s leaving a big skills gap.”

But if the waiting time at The Garage is anything to go by, there’s an obvious demand for independent garages with the skills Adrian and Andrea offer. Above all, they seem to love their work. “Every single day is different, every car is different. We’ll give anything a go.”

Call (03) 5427 1060
For more information visit https://www.the-garage.biz/

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