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Clancy Harrip
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Q&A with the Garage Miami

Nathan and Renee Brookes are the owners of The Garage Miami, a sparkling new automotive servicing business on the Gold Coast. Built around the concept of ‘making things easier for the customer’, The Garage Miami offers a first-class service across tyre and wheel retail and auto servicing that is built upon the foundation of a professional and knowledgeable workforce, the most up-to-date technology and equipment, and a facility that is family-friendly and geared to make customers feel relaxed and comfortable.

What products and services does The Garage Miami provide?

NB: Our primary focus is on tyres, wheels and auto care. By auto care we mean general car servicing, brakes and suspension. We do all kinds of motor repairs, although we refrain from what I would call heavy mechanical or engine repairs. We are a fast-fit service.

How long has the business been established?

NB: We have been operating for three months.

Can you explain the concept behind the store?

NB: It started with the thought, ‘What makes it easier for the customer?’. Everything we have done is about answering that question.

We talked about the fact that a garage was thought of as place where you could take your vehicle regardless of the problem, but that they had gotten old and outdated. We wanted to bring it back from that and we want to assist people who don’t necessarily know much about cars, who need to feel comfortable about getting their cars serviced, and who are looking for a transparent and honest operator.

The presentation of the business is second to none and we have  equipped the store with the best of everything while also paying a lot of attention to elements such as workflow. The equipment we use, whether it is wheel balance and alignment machines or vehicle diagnostic equipment, is market-leading. For instance, we have a Hoffman geodyna 9000p wheel balancer with 3D imaging technology which is, I believe, a first for the Gold Coast.

So, we have a capability that not everyone has, and that is good for the customer and makes our life easier too!

And we have very skilled staff. We run with a policy that you are either fully qualified or you are training to be fully qualified. That leads to better service in the long run. My offsider, Rod, has just come from owning his own Bob Jane T-Marts franchise in Bondi. He is an exceptional asset and his presence means that customers are seen by an informed consultant on the front counter every time. And that matters. 

What is your background in the industry and how did you come to establish The Garage Miami?
NB: When I was young, my family had Bob Jane T-Marts franchises here in Queensland. That meant, of course, that I tried at all costs to avoid the industry and I ended up becoming an accountant!

I worked overseas for a while and when I returned, I found the business needed an injection of energy, so I began to help out. And we saw results that were better than anything I could achieve in any other industry. So, we decided to stick with it.

When the franchise agreement was up at our Tweed Heads branch, I took the opportunity to buy the business from the family and converted it to a Jax Tyres store. That turned out to be a fantastic move for us and led to the opening of another site at Burleigh, and then to the offer of a role with Jax as Manager of Retail Performance.

Even though that role meant commuting back and forth to Sydney every week, it was a great job. It gave me a lot of background on the industry and I was there for a couple of years before the opportunity to establish The Garage Miami came along.

That opportunity came when the tenants of the block we had just bought decided to vacate. They actually vacated during settlement and those circumstances forced us into an immediate decision. 

Even though we ended up working to a really compressed timeline we knew what we wanted to do. We’d had the Bob Jane and Jax franchises in the past, knew what they did exceptionally well, and knew that we could build on that. In the end, it took only two months for us to go from the initial thought process to opening the store.

That meant a lot of work was done on the fly and we didn’t have a a supplier meeting until early July. Fortunately, we had a track record they were happy with and working with major brands such as Pirelli, Michelin, Continental, Bridgestone, Falken, Toyo, Maxxis and Achilles has achieved a really good result.

What’s the benefit of being an independent business?
NB: I like to move at a fast pace and run as many new ideas as possible. An organisation of 500 or 1000 employees just can’t make changes like that. Instead, I have a team of people who have a lot of experience and are truly interested in trying new things.  

Do you get to work on the tools yourself?

NB: At the moment I do every day, but long term I won’t. In the past, I have found being stuck in the workshop has hurt sales. I don’t think the workshop is the best place for a business owner - I think they need to be out building relationships with customers.

You’ve spent years working in the tyre industry. Are there any trends we should look out for?
NB: I think the online market is here to stay and what will hinder independent businesses is whether or not they can master going online. If they can’t go digital, then in the next five years they will probably be pulling the garage door shut.

Another trend may be that OE fitments will become more important. This is because manufacturers know that if the wrong tyre gets put on a car, it won’t perform and can damage the brand. For example, if you’ve got a tyre that is designed for a car running high camber it might have a stronger inner sidewall with reinforced sections. But that tyre might not need to be reinforced for a different vehicle. Put that tyre on the wrong car and you are not going to get a good result. 

That sort of stuff will become more relevant as cars become more specialised and intuitive. For us, when we consider all the advanced driver assistance systems, fitting quality tyres is critical to work in with the algorithms in the vehicle’s systems for elements such as braking distances. 

We haven’t seen it yet, but what happens if a budget tyre is fitted to a car that doesn’t stop in time even though the driver was using adaptive cruise control? That is why we are allied to premium brands. I just think they are the way to go.

A current trend, of course, is the ‘look at me’ aspect of 4WD tyres. Recently I fitted a set of mud tyres for someone who was happy to admit they never went off road! Despite our pleading for something more sensible, he absolutely wanted that result. It’s counter-intuitive for us as professional solutions providers, but that market is huge.

Your branding is very different and has a classic, retro style to it. How did that come about?
NB: Our architect is a creative guy and we were brain-storming the concept one day and decided we would use colours ‘that men would have on a race car and women would have on a dress’ - colours and a design that were appealing to everyone.

As for the shop, we are based in an area that is creative and where people are interested in such things as street art. We were across from the building one night, having a beer, when we realised we could use the walls in a creative way. If people liked street art and retro styling, we thought we could bring that to what we were doing. It’s keeping in theme with the street and has led to great feedback. In fact, a frequent question from people before we opened was whether the building was going to house an automotive business or a restaurant!

What does the future hold for you and the business?

NB: We have been doing this for a long time and the early indications are we should achieve break-even within three months. The support from the local community has been tremendous and they are really embracing us. 

We will expand our services to include vehicle grooming, and will move more heavily into online services, but I don’t have a desire to build a huge business. 
If I can have a successful store just 2km  from my house, then I am happy with that.

What do you do with your spare time, if you have any?

NB: We are pretty disciplined. Both Rod and I have young families and we pull up stumps as soon as possible in the afternoon, even if that means we have to come back after the kids have gone to bed. I made it clear that we could not make the same mistake as many that have gone before us and not dedicate time to the family. They are, after all, why we do it! 

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