– Remarks by Lauren Kramer Photography by Lia Crowe
from the margin, It’s easy to look at a successful business and assume that success came easily. But the truth is that this is not always the case.
Take for example Motor Werke, a locally owned company based in Kelowna that specializes in mechanical services for European vehicles such as Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mercedes, Mini, Volvo and Porsche. Today it’s buzzing: The 13-year-old business has nine service bays and 20 employees and services about 200 vehicles each month. Their focus is inspections, diagnostics, repairs, upgrades, and maintenance, and they also offer a wax shop to keep customers’ cars sparkling.
Owner Chris Germana, 44, has his eyes firmly on the future. He is bringing young partners into the fold, expanding the garage’s physical footprint and welcoming apprentice mechanics to learn the trade.
“As a business owner, I’ve learned that the most important thing you can do is take what you’ve learned and share it by investing in other people,” Chris reflects. “We have doubled the number of our staff in recent years, we have four new apprentices and we are actively developing young people. It is very rewarding to see others around us grow and to be part of the mentoring process.”
But the road to this success was not without its bumps and turns.
When he graduated from high school in Stoney Creek, Ontario, Chris had no idea what career he would pursue. After a brief stint at an arts school, he followed a mechanic and quickly realized that his love of European vehicles outweighed his love of art and design.
“I always wanted to own a Porsche 911 and a BMW E30, so I decided to enter an industry where I’m surrounded by cars all day,” he says.
He found the educational program that would teach him the skills he needed at Universal Technical Institute of Arizona, but the $35,000 tuition was the first hurdle he had to overcome.
Determined to enroll, he spent 18 months working full-time for the Ontario school board and stocking the shelves of a local grocery store on weekends, saving every penny of his salary. A loan from a family member sealed the deal and in 2000, Chris headed to Phoenix.
For the next four years, he studied for his mechanic’s certification and worked at a BMW dealership in Scottsdale. By chance, he met people along the way who advised and helped him.
“As an international student, I had to work harder than domestic students to get into the program and find a sponsor,” she recalls.
In the condominium complex where he lived, his study overlooked the pool and another resident, who happened to supply automotive equipment, noted that young Chris was always at his desk studying. The two struck up a conversation in the shared laundry room and Chris’s new friend helped him connect with the right people in the industry, who in turn sponsored a work permit that allowed him to stay and work after graduation.
In 2004, Chris missed Canada and was ready to return home. He found work as a mechanic at dealerships in southern Ontario, met his wife and started a family. But living an hour from Toronto, his commute to work was deadly.
When the family vacationed in the Okanagan in 2006, Chris fell in love with the region. Ready for a lifestyle change, he moved the family to British Columbia just a few months after that first visit, settling in Kelowna. Determined to open his own auto business, he enrolled in a few business courses and, in March 2009, opened the doors of Motor Werke in downtown Kelowna.
The first few years presented a steep learning curve, as the business endured its share of growing pains, Chris recalls, adding, “But I was lucky enough to meet great people who became my mentors, equipping me with the tools , advice and knowledge I needed to get through that period.”
Motor Werke specializes in European makes but also services Japanese vehicles.
“We’re really in the business to take care of people and serve them well, so even though we specialize in certain brands, we don’t turn anyone away,” he says.
Part of that care package includes a fleet of 15 courtesy cars. If one is not available, customers are shuttled back home while their cars are in the store.
“People don’t expect to be treated or respected like they are at Motor Werke,” says Chris. “Women in particular, we want women to feel safe and independent when they walk through our doors. We treat everyone with respect and never speak ill of our clients. Instead, we try to ease their anxiety by providing them with relevant information so they can make informed decisions.”
In the last five years, he has seen his company grow stronger. He is proud to have recruited and retained young and talented staff, including recruits from all corners of the world, including the UK, Ireland, Scotland, South Africa and Eastern Canada.
Chris recently added three partners to the business, an integral part of his long-term succession plan.
“I don’t want to be the kind of business owner who builds a great business and one day walks out into retirement with a big check in his pocket,” he says. “I want the people who helped me get where I needed to be rewarded by becoming owners and taking over the business. In this way, I can share the success we have had.”
Describing how important the Werke team is to him, Chris talks about Sir Lewis Hamilton, a British Formula One racing driver. In a recent race, Chris says, Lewis was second, losing out to rival Max Verstappen.
“In the post-race interview, Lewis was quick to thank his team for their success in the race and the fans for their great support throughout the race. This is something Lewis does in almost every interview,” says Chris. “This is an attitude that is common among true champions: recognizing the people around them who come together in good times and tough times to repeat the highest level of performance year after year.”
Chris says these types of champions walk through Werke every day.
“Our store is filled with great people, both our team and customers who act as ambassadors for our business. I want to thank all of them. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.”
story courtesy of boulevard magazinea Black Press Media publication
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