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Michigan auto repair shop business thrives with wholesale, walk-ins

Tuesday, November 21, 2017 - 08:00
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There’s something to be said for the old school way of doing things. For one, it still works. Take Tune Master—this Pontiac, Mich., repair shop endures despite not having a website. Outside of Google and Facebook, Jeff Leonard’s facility barely has any presence on the internet. “Nope, don’t need it,” he confides. “Never really had a use for it.” 

At a Glance:
Tune Master, Inc.
Pontiac, Mich.
Location
1
No. of shops
Jeffrey Leonard
Owner
22
Years in business
4
Total no. of employees
3
No. of bays
30-40
No. of customer vehicles per week
$500,000
Annual gross revenue

Call it hardened intuition, because Leonard has seen many things exit this Detroit community—the Lions pro football team in 2002, Pontiac’s namesake GM division in 2010—but he had the foresight to set a different course for his shop since he opened in 1995.

“I get a lot of walk-ins off the street,” he notes, “but the mainstay of my business is wholesale. We’re backed up for two weeks all the time. My dealer accounts come first and I squeeze my [walk-in] clientele in when I can, but realistically I could take the sign off my building tomorrow and it wouldn’t affect my business.”

For Leonard has built a reputation exclusively on a market most shops have only tapped into, namely because this kind of trust isn’t something that happens overnight. It took years to cultivate contractual work from “dealers, car lots, things like that,” he explains. “Word-of-mouth in the car business is pretty big here since Pontiac isn’t a very big city. I’ve got to maintain a good reputation.”

Today Leonard and his techs spend most of their time troubleshooting for other shops and doing extended service work for car lots. “I deal with (nearly every aftermarket) warranty company,” he states, having established Tune Master as a preferred shop for many of the area’s used car dealers.

“I’ve got a couple of them that are pretty substantial,” Leonard continues. “We do the safety inspections and initial repairs on everything they get from auction or take in on trade. They’ve always got something ready to go—a car on the lot might have an engine light pop on, or a rusty frame.”  

The latter is a problem unique to the Midwest, especially Michigan, where both snow and salt are plentiful; certain models are prone to premature rust. “I’ve actually seen a subframe broken in half like a Saltine cracker right down the middle--it drove in like that with the wheels buckled in,” laughs Leonard. 

“To replace one is not as extensive as you might think; a typical frame cradle takes about 6-8 hours,” he says without irony. “But we just finished up a 2010 Cadillac SRS SUV; we had to drop the frame cradle with the motor and trans so we could pull the motor apart and put in a timing chain. Now that’s a pretty major job.”

As a result of all this work, Leonard has an employee whose chief job is transporting vehicles back and forth to the dealers. “One thing I do with our wholesale customers is I acknowledge they don’t have the time to leave their desks and be away from their customers to pickup and deliver cars,” he explains. 

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