After 35 years in business together, Wolfgang and Greg at European specialist Schneider Motors reveal the secrets to their working relationship and successful partnership.
The name’s Schneider Motors, there are typically Volkswagens, Mercedes and Audis parked out front and I’m greeted by a mechanic called Wolfgang. This charming little garage, in the same spot and run by the same two mechanics since 1986, may sound like it’s somewhere in rural Germany, but is actually neatly tucked away in Noosaville, Queensland. And really, it was never going to specialise in Holdens or Hondas, was it?
In partnership for 35 years, Wolfgang Schneider and Greg Reason are a success story by the very fact they’ve thrived across the decades. There’s just the two of them; the workshop’s only suitable for two cars, and their relationship based on trust and respect has ensured they’ve endured. Both men tend to specialise in their own areas and brands of expertise, and from the outset have kept things as simple as they can.
“As cars have become more complicated over the years, I’m glad we chose from the beginning not to do electrics, electronics or automatic transmissions,” Wolfgang explained. “There are so many issues with those. If we have a car, scan it, diagnose it and problems are related to the computer, we have to say sorry it needs to go to another place. If you’re an auto electrician you don’t want to do an oil change, and vice versa.”
In the early days Greg would do the air-cooled work on Beetles, Kombis and Porsches as, according to Wolfgang, he has the expertise and patience for them. “Greg also like Toyotas and stuff like that, while some weeks I’ll touch nothing but PROFILEEuropean cars,” said Wolfgang. “You’ve caught me doing a head on a Mazda today, but normally I’ll be on the Mercedes, Audis, BMWs or Volkswagens. When you’ve worked with someone for as long as we have, you know he’s a better man on certain cars, and me on others.” The pair went into partnership out of necessity. Wolfgang was working for a European car specialist part-time. Its German owner wanted to return home, so Wolfgang agreed to take it over. Greg had been mechanic at a nearby workshop run by his parents when they retired, so was out of the job. “We decided to give it a go together,” Wolfgang said. “A lot of Greg’s old customers came to us, and the Schneider name certainly helped with our European car specialising, although I wish we’d have called it something else as it’s too personalised to me.”
There were enough European cars driving around the Noosa area in 1986 to keep the duo busy, but they thought their number was up when a Mercedes dealer came to town. “It actually helped us as people bought Mercedes but didn’t want to service them at dealer prices,” Wolfgang said. “BMW came to town, and Volvo, so it’s been a good line of work to specialise in.”
The workshop has walls of tools that have been there from the outset, and all very neatly organised. Up high is a vintage Otto Synchron carburettor synchroniser gauge tester, there to balance the airflow in carburettors. “We’ve not had to use it in years,” Wolfgang said, “but we used to all the time in the early days and it was very useful. We don’t see too many old European cars anymore. They’ve just become so expensive.”
One classic that is prominent is a 1963 Holden EJ ute in the centre of the workshop. “That’s now our spare parts department,” Wolfgang said. The dusty classic was bought new by Greg’s grandfather, and eventually the business bought it to use for picking up parts. “Now everything gets delivered, so the ute’s there for storage, and it means customer cars can’t be left there while they’re waiting for parts to arrive, taking up space.”
A look at the job book shows business is busy. In recent years the workshop’s booked out two weeks in advance, but of late that’s pushed out to almost a month. “Most are oil services, and we try to book every day fully out. Even so, we have never worked Saturday or Sunday – Greg’s father advised us to take our weekends. We could make more money, but we’re glad we didn’t.”
Wolfgang is certain customers keep coming back for the personal touch they offer. “Of course people want to save money by not paying big dealership prices,” he said. “But also they come in, see a couple of old guys who are mechanically minded and we explain what will or should happen to their car. If you go to a dealer, you usually don’t speak to the guy doing the job.”
Relationships surviving 35 years have become rare in these times, so what’s been the secret? “Respect for each other goes a long way,” explained Wolfgang. “You have to be flexible. If one of us has to go and be somewhere else, we do what we can before leaving so there’s no problems for the other. Greg’s a great guy; over the years we divide jobs to what we each like, and we don’t socialise outside of work. I reckon our relationship’s got better over the years.”
Wolfgang said he still gets a happy, satisfied buzz from solving mechanical problems; that’s never changed over the years. And while customers have got more demanding – especially on time frames – he loves the more laid-back Australian approach. “When I worked in Germany, if you said collect the car at 3PM it meant 3PM. Not two minutes past 3PM. Here things are usually more flexible when we have time pressures, and it makes me happy that people trust us enough when we say things like brakes are down, I’d say 95 per cent will say please get them done.”
As for advice on how to stay happy and for a business to survive many decades, Wolfgang said: “I don’t think Greg or I have ever calculated how much money we’d make on a specific job. We aren’t getting rich, but the money takes care of itself. If a business is all about profit, you won’t be happy.”
For more information call Schneider Motors on (07) 5449 8464.