At Hands-on Garage in Milwaukee, WI, technicians sign on as independent contractors and set their own hourly rates. Each technician is required to incorporate as a business and purchase insurance. The shop is equipped with diagnostic equipment and tools.
Below is the article as it appeared on the JOURNAL SENTINEL website.
New garage helps do it yourselfers, freelance mechanics
By Joe Taschler of the Journal Sentinel
Posted: May 10, 2010
Nearly every Tuesday and Friday for the past two years, Gary Miller and four investment partners have gathered at 6 a.m. to dream out loud.
They were looking for a business opportunity and came up with this: An auto repair facility that would serve everyone from shade-tree mechanics to experienced automotive technicians who wanted their own business but couldn’t scrape together the start-up costs.
The result is Hands-on Garage, which opened this month at 5757 Lover’s Lane Road on Milwaukee’s northwest side.
"Instead of buying a company, we decided to make one," said Miller, president, founder and driving force behind the concept.
The company focuses on do-it-yourselfers interested in simple maintenance and repair who need a place other than their driveway to do it, and on experienced mechanics that can join the organization as Fleet Crew members.
Fleet Crew members are independent contractors who use the facility as a base of operations, Miller said. They are required to incorporate as a business and to purchase insurance.
Hands-on Garage has a law firm and insurance company that handle the paperwork. It also has accounting and banking services available for fleet crew members.
Facility charges are on a per-use basis. Technicians set their own hourly rates, and there is a written code of conduct for all Fleet Crew members.
An automotive technician joins the garage as an independent contractor after paying a $585 start-up fee. They would service individual and small-business accounts, Miller said.
The crews members go to a customer’s home or workplace, pick up the vehicle, perform the work, and return the vehicle.
"We’re reversing the way the mechanic operates," Miller said. "We’ve turned it into a hub-and-spoke instead of sitting and waiting for customers to come in."
Mechanics are available to answer questions for do-it-yourselfers, or help if someone gets in over their head, Miller said.
The company also has a retail section and sells parts. The garage has entered into an agreement with national auto parts chain AutoZone Inc. as part of its retail segment.
The business is equipped with engine diagnostic equipment as well as hand tools for use in its repair bays. Two computers are available to look up parts and repair information. Equipment is also available to service air conditioning equipment.
Tom Reinke is one of the floor mechanics. He was laid off in February after his employer outsourced its fleet maintenance work. He has 30 years of experience.
"People don’t call you back. You just keep plugging away," he said. "I was getting sick of sitting around the house."
Dan Bedard of Germantown is signing on as a Fleet Crew member. He is a graduate of the auto service program at Waukesha County Technical College, and at age 25, he is looking to establish himself in the business.
"I can see it being a very beneficial opportunity for me," he said.
Two years to start
Miller is an Air Force veteran who is a standby flight crew member for American Airlines. The other investors include a sales rep and information technology professional.
"It’s taken us almost two years to get where we are now," Miller said.
The downturn in the economy may actually help the fledgling business, Miller said, as folks who have been putting off repair and maintenance work decide to have it done.
Nationally, there are very few similar businesses, said spokesmen for the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence in Leesburg, VA, and the Automotive Service Association in Bedford, TX.
Miller is aware of the risks involved in starting a business.
"It’s not about getting rich," he said. "This is what we do as Americans."
To read this article on the JOURNAL SENTINEL website, visit http://www.jsonline.com/business/93353319.html.