Following His Dream Takes Shop’s ‘Captain’ to Maine
Bruce J. Howes always dreamed of living on the coast. Now he’s living that dream.
He’s the owner of Atlantic Motorcar Center in Wiscasset, Maine, which is right on the Atlantic Ocean.
In its day, Wiscasset was the busiest seaport north of Boston. Or, it was until the embargo of 1807 halted trade with England. Today, with a population of about 3,600 people, the seaport is a tourist destination noted for early architecture and a harbor rich in nautical history (for example, during the Revolutionary War, a British warship, anchored in the harbor, held the town at bay until its residents gave the warship essential supplies).
Like we say, Howes loves nautical history and that’s what brought him to the coast nine years ago.
But his devotion to the automotive service and repair business goes back 26 years.
He was 21 when he started “European Performance” in 1985 in Buffalo, N.Y. His first shop was a rented two-bay service station that had a leaking roof and very little heat. “I vividly recall the water in the restroom freezing in the cold Buffalo winters,” says Howes.
He managed to save enough money to buy some land just up the road. There he constructed the firm’s first building, a 2,448-square-foot structure that included four service bays and an office.
Thinking he could never outgrow four service bays, he settled back with a sigh of satisfaction. But that state of euphoria was short-lived. Ever-increasing business dictated the need to build a second building attached to the first. He also added auto sales.
Obviously, the business was doing well and life was good. But his dream to live on the coast was never out of mind. So when he turned 36, he sold his house and business, leased his business property and headed for Maine. He found a large unused commercial building on U.S. Route 1 and established Atlantic Motorcar Center, working on and selling Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, Volvo and Mini vehicles. Atlantic Motorcar Center, which encompasses four acres, has since added Japanese autos to the list of autos it works on and sells.
Howes is a Bosch-trained technician with extensive experience working on BMW, Mercedes and Volvo automobiles. His staff includes a team of highly trained and certified technicians.
But building a first-class shop hasn’t always been smooth sailing. One of the biggest obstacles Howes has faced is finding good people; highly skilled techs who can work on expensive autos. His coming up with the great team he has today stems from his practice of his first interviewing a prospect, then getting his team of techs to also interview that person. “They speak the same language,” says Howes, “and I respect my techs’ judgment.”
Atlantic Motorcar is a Bosch Authorized Service Center, AAA-approved auto repair facility, and member of iATN, the Automotive Service Association (ASA), the BIMRS (BMW) organization and the Import Automotive Professionals 20 Group.
Howes requires his staffers to grow in their skills and profession, therefore there is great emphasis on education. Each staff member must complete a minimum of four training sessions per year. And training is important enough that the shop includes a specially equipped multi-media room with Internet conference capabilities.
Atlantic Motorcar Center has such a good reputation that customers come to it from both in- and out-of-state. Howes and his staff strive to earn the trust and respect of customers every day. The shop’s tag line is “Earning your trust. Every time you turn the key.”
What’s ahead? More locations. “It’s just a matter of replicating our philosophy and values,” says Howes. “We’re currently exploring locations north and south of Wiscasset.
“After 26 years in the business, we’ve figured out a few things, like how to please our customers, how to hire and retain top employees, and how to provide exceptionally high-quality service for European autos. It’s our ‘secret sauce.’ So we’ll take that ‘secret sauce’ and run with it.”
You can bet those shops will incorporate Howes’ buphilosophy of “trust and value.”
And, that they’ll be shipshape!
Name of Shop: Atlantic Motorcar Center
*Atlantic Motorcar Center was cited by AutoInc. in its January 2012 issue as having one of this year’s Top 10 Automotive Repair websites.
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