Masterton couple Alex Bilton and Casey Morris are making sure their new auto repair business is future-proofed.
Alex (a qualified auto-electrician) and partner Casey (qualified parts and accessories sales) want to be prepared for a growth in hybrid and electric vehicle technology. In the meantime they are building up their scan tools and skills to take on the wave of computer technology that is now standard in newer vehicles.
“Our point of difference to other workshops in Masterton is that we can do both mechanical and auto electrical repairs, so we want to build that up,” said Casey (below).
“The plan is for all our staff to cross train so that everyone can do auto electrical and mechanical work.”
Alex is now part way through his auto technician apprenticeship under the supervision of workshop foreman Bruce Hewitt. In turn, new mechanic Josh Elliott will go through an auto electrical apprenticeship. Bruce already holds both qualifications. It’s early days, but auto technician apprentice Ben Nikolaison will also be encouraged to follow their example.
There’s engine oil in the bloodstream of both Alex and Casey. Alex’s father Gary Bilton was an auto mechanic and Casey’s brother Mike Morris, a diesel mechanic. Casey started her working life selling parts at Repco before moving on to Southey Honda and Nissan parts department. The couple have put everything they have into their business, but not without careful planning and preparation.
“I had worked for almost 10 years at Auto Electrical Services Wairarapa where I learnt a lot and whom I will always be grateful to,” said Alex.
In preparation, the pair went through the free 36-week Certificate in Small Business Management course run by Te Waanaga o Aotearoa. “We thought we’d do that first and if we still thought our own business was achievable, we’d go ahead.”
The plan was for Alex to open his one-man workshop in a shed at their home around the middle of 2016. The longer-term plan was to expand to a building in town and take on more staff.
Below: Alex talks apprentice Ben Nikolaison (left) through a repair process.
But, just as they were ready to make their move, a Masterton workshop was shutting its doors leaving the premises vacant and the plant up for sale. “We did a lot of talking with our accountant, families, banks, and business mentors and then decided to go for it,” explained Casey.
Open for business
In September, the couple opened Motorworks Mechanical & Electrical Ltd and joined MTA.
One of the first steps they took in their new business was the make sure it complied with new health and safety law. “We wanted to get on top of the process straight away and start with the right culture. One of the first things our MTA business advisor Julian McMullan did when we opened was to come by and check out the workshop and give us a few pointers. He also suggested to us that we do the MTA health and safety evening course. So the whole team went to that,” said Alex.
They were also fortunate that their admin officer, Janine O’Hara had training as a health and safety representative with her previous employer. This added great experience to the team.
Janine then worked her way through the MTA Toolbox health and safety guidance to identify hazards, set up plans and printed out the checklists and forms she needed. “It was really easy to follow and we feel happy that all our systems are in place and staff are on board with reporting any hazards, incidents or near misses.”
The couple were helped by Julian along the way when they had a few questions. Julian said “Alex and Casey were really keen to make their workplace as safe as possible. They did their homework, and worked their way through the Toolbox and are running a very effective process, and a safe workshop.”
“Before we got all our systems in place and had the signage put up, we used to get customers walking through the workshop to get to reception. We’ve managed to put a stop to that and everything is very clearly signposted. Everyone also knows that anything that might be a risk has to be reported to me immediately.”
Less than a year after opening, the Motorworks team is expanding. Recently a well-known local workshop closed for business after 15 years of operation. Motorworks was asked to take on the responsibility of looking after its clients. “All workshops need other workshops to complete jobs from time to time and it was a great compliment to us, to know they trusted us to recommend us to their clients”.
Casey and Alex launched a second direct marketing campaign to their new customers. “We sent out a welcome letter to the new clients, with a $20 MTA gift card which could be redeemed when they came to us for some work to be done.”
Below, the Motorworks team: From left: Alex Bilton, Bruce Hewitt, Casey Morris, Josh Elliott, Yvette Martin, Ben Nikolaison.
The Motorworks team is now settled in and focused on the future. “We are concentrating of providing top quality service – up there with the service a dealership would offer. With our scan tools and auto electricians we can compete. So if someone has a European vehicle – or any make in fact – and it needs check lights assessed, we can do it in Masterton.They don’t have to take the car to a Wellington or Palmerston North dealership.”
Casey says they also make sure any customer who has had some major work done under the hood gets a bright and shiny clean car at the end of the job. “It’s hard for customers to see expensive repairs or auto electrical work – so we make sure to clean the car and shine the tyres so they can see a difference.”