Florida Shop Finds Its NichePosted 8/11/2005
By Levy Joffrion
It's unique in that it works only on Mercedes vehicles and it does not advertise. Even its sign in front of the business is a little hard to see.
That it is successful is obvious when one considers it has been in business for more than 21 years and it has all the business it can say grace over. Even though it is a small shop, it does approximately $1 million in sales a year.
Owner Frank McGeown says he relies on word-of-mouth advertising, which he feels "is better than all of the dollars you could spend advertising in print or on the radio or television." McGeown also says, "We treat our customers the way we would want to be treated."
Obviously, that business philosophy is paying off.
Star Import averages 40 to 50 repair orders a week. In addition, it sells pre-owned Mercedes vehicles.
McGeown says he doesn't fix vehicles any more, but he handles a myriad of other chores, including ordering parts, service writing, car purchasing and sales. He is assisted by his wife, Dorothy, who "keeps the books;" daughter, Jennifer; two technicians; and a student technician who is enrolled in the automotive repair program at Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville.
Star Import was started in a four-bay warehouse, which was home for the business for five years before it moved to its present location at 2219 NW 71 Place in Gainesville.
McGeown got into the car business as a young man after returning from Vietnam and being discharged by the Air Force. A friend at a Cadillac dealership in Miami asked him to come to work for the dealership as a front-end technician. Later, he worked for a Mercedes dealership.
McGeown graduated from high school and attended Miami Dade Community College. He also has completed Mercedes Benz specialized training and business and automotive specialized training at Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville. He has been ASE fully certified since 1972.
He was president of the North Central Florida ASA chapter for about 10 years and has served as vice president of ASA-Florida. Currently he is serving on the Santa Fe Community College president's advisory board (which he has been a member of for 10 years). He is also chairman of the Work Force Development Board for Alachua and Bradford counties in Florida. In addition, for 10 years he was president of the Gator Nationals Booster Club, which supports races held by the National Hot Rod Association. And, he has been president of the Northwood Park Owners Association for more than seven years.
McGeown received Mercedes Benz' technician of the year award two years in a row. He has been named the Tech Prep Education Partner of Distinction for the Alachua Association for Career and Technical Education.
In addition, he has received Boy Scout Troop 125's "Most Valuable Partner" award and the Alachua County Vocational Association award.
When asked what he likes best about his job, McGeown says, "The financial freedom it has given us, the sense of controlling our own destiny, and the opportunity of getting to know the many nice people we have met."
If he could change one thing about the industry, what would that be?
"I'd like to change the motoring public's low opinion of our high-tech industry," says McGeown. "We're not much higher than horseshoers in the public's estimation."
McGeown is proud of his ASA chapter and the fact it is proactive. For example, he points out, the North Central Florida ASA chapter has teamed up with the National Hot Rod Association, original equipment manufacturers and the State of Florida to endow scholarships at the local community college. "Every year," says McGeown, "that enables at least three students to attend with all expenses paid."
In addition, several of the ASA chapter's members serve on the school's advisory panel.
"We have the best group in all of ASA," says McGeown. "Our members work together to resolve differences and help each other with problems."
Shop StatsName: Star Import Service
Location: Gainesville, Fla.
No. of employees: 6
No. of years in business: 21+
Projected annual sales volume: $750,000 to $800,000
On what he likes best about his job: The financial freedom it has given us, the sense of controlling our own destiny, and the opportunity of getting to know the many nice people we have met.
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