Shop's specialty in Mercedes-Benz, BMW service drives continued investment

May 25, 2017
“Fortune favors the bold” goes an old Latin proverb, so when an independent Mercedes-Benz-oriented repair shop in Waltham, Mass., was sold to a dealership, three visionary individuals took it upon themselves to create a new one: European Auto Solutions.

“Fortune favors the bold” goes an old Latin proverb, so when an independent Mercedes-Benz-oriented repair shop in Waltham, Mass., was sold to a dealership, three visionary individuals took it upon themselves to create a new one: European Auto Solutions (EAS).

As one-third of this partnership and service director of EAS, Ed Owen was a service advisor at the old shop when the dealership took over. “They loved our customer following, but (said) we weren’t ‘selling urgency,’” he wryly notes. “I just didn’t want to be in the car business if that was the case. Stroke of luck: one of our big customers had taken a big buyout from (his corporation) and wanted to do something entrepreneurial.”

At a Glance:
European Auto Solutions
Edward Owen and Scott Penney
No. of shops
Years in business
No. of technicians
Total no. of employees
Square footage of shop
No. of bays
No. of vehicles per week
3.6 million
Annual gross revenue

Along with another technician from the old shop, the trio recognized — as per their website —“the shortage in the Boston marketplace of a truly independent repair facility that delivers the highest caliber of service at a competitive price.” Therefore in July 2006 they opened a shop where the parking was admittedly sparse but the facility itself quite large at 9,000 square feet.

Properly capitalized and staffed, they built a technical foundation focused not just on any German make, but Mercedes-Benz exclusively, although they would add BMW later. “Our belief in doing one marque at a time is like the medical field where you have a specialty,” says Owen. “There aren’t any general practitioners anymore, it’s all specialty stuff, and with the amount you have to invest in the software and the tools, it’s really hard to be a full service for the line without investing heavily in it.”

And Owen used this to EAS’s advantage in marketing and customer service efforts. “Waltham is a pretty big city,” he confides. “In fact it’s got a lot of mom-and-pop automotive places because you can repair cars without a special permit.” Historically associated with the start of the American Industrial Revolution, Waltham still supports this impresario spirit.

“That favored us for location,” he reports, “but I went to every one of those shops in town and just introduced ourselves by saying we’re not competition. We have scan tools, so instead of taking that Mercedes to the dealer and having them charge an hour or two every time to read a code, we’re happy to do it for half that, even less. Instead of creating animosity, we worked at a partnership. At some point a lot of the shops were saying ‘I don’t work on Mercedes; you need to see these guys.’” 

Within three years EAS had outgrown its original facility. To find a new one they once again networked through the client base. “As luck would have it, one of our first customers was a realtor who had found a property through an acquaintance,” says Owen. A 10,000 square foot building on about 2.5 acres, the facility was only four years old, sporting such modern conveniences as radiant floor heat and gated security.

“Nothing else could compare to it,” Owen remarks. “But we were still growing the business and weren’t big enough to take this (property) on — the price tag was a little bit out of our reach, and this was in 2010 when no one was lending. But we thought we could do it; we put together a package and went to the bank, and they said ‘maybe.’”

Within a year the EAS partners convinced the bank to say yes, but it was still a big step for the company. “When we got the parking lot [paved], at that time we were doing probably 30-35 cars a week, and for a lot that size that was basically nothing,” Owen recalls. “I thought, ‘we’ll never fill this.’ Of course now we’re doing between 55-65 cars a week and the parking lot’s always full.”

EAS’s growth was also bolstered by participation in the Automotive Training Institute (ATI). ATI’s programs helped EAS refine the structure and management of their shop. “They helped us to refocus a bit on maintenance and understand how we needed to build the shop, understanding who the ‘C,’ ‘B’ and ‘A’ techs were and not to get overloaded with A techs,” Owen explains.

That requires balancing staff ambition with profitability. “When you’re building a shop, you’ve got to understand that you need level C work, but B work is pretty much the most profitable,” Owen continues. “And then you’ve got you’re a diagnostic work, which is always a struggle to get paid for, so you need to build that mix. It’s always grooming people as you go, because they always want to grow — C tech to a B tech, etc. — and sometimes you lose people over that.”

They also began marketing maintenance programs. “We had to suggest it, remind customers about it, bring up what the book said about maintenance,” says Owen. “But these really helped build understanding and plant the seed for future work, doing it in a way that advised them, not give them a sales pitch. You coordinate with the client, trying to help them manage their budget, their expectations.”

Then about three years ago EAS invested in solar power. “It always seemed too expensive, but we were told that was the year to do it because incentives were going to change,” Owen recalls. “We had a perfect location for about 248 panels with no restrictions on generating power. It worked out pretty well; we were revenue neutral in about a year and half, and have recovered (the cost) since. We’re using only about 50 percent of the capacity we’re generating, but with the size of the property we can grow up to 25,000 square feet, so maybe someday we’ll put a charging station in.”

EAS also recently expanded into car sales, keeping 10-12 on the lot, but selling a few at auction — which gives the shop national exposure. But what brings a sparkle to Owen’s eye is the vintage work. “I call that the romance of the business, like the 1971 Mercedes 280SL or the ’68 280SE or the ’73 BMW — that’s the stuff people like to see on social media.”

About the Author

Robert Bravender

Robert Bravender graduated from the University of Memphis (TN) with a bachelor's degree in film and video production. Now working at Masters TV, he produces Motorhead Garage with longtime how-to guys Sam Memmolo and Dave Bowman. Bravender has edited a magazine for the National Muscle Car Association, a member-based race organization, which in turn lead to producing TV shows for ESPN, the Outdoor Life Network and Speedvision. He has produced shows ranging from the Mothers Polish Car Show Series to sport compact racing to Street Rodder TV.

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