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Repair shop's passion for performance drives success

Wednesday, November 6, 2019 - 08:00
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Many business ventures start with passion, although most endeavors in the 21st century seem dominated by three Cs: capability, cooperation and capital. During an industry’s halcyon days, maybe — but as little as eight years ago Bluewater Performance accomplished this feat driven almost exclusively by a passion for performance.

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Specializing in European auto repair, this Denver, Colo., business started out as a speed shop in Gabe Adams’ garage. As a kid in Cincinnati, Ohio, Adams had grown up helping his dad build Chevy street machines, but at 16 bought a ‘96 Volkswagen Jetta as his first car.

At a Glance:
Bluewater Performance
Denver, Colorado
No. of shops
Gabe Adams
Years in business
No. of techs
Total no. of employees
Square footage of shops
No. of bays per shop
No. of customer vehicles per week
$2.5 million
Annual gross revenue

“Even though it was bottom-tier VW, it just had a different feel to me than a Chevrolet or any domestic vehicle,” Adams recalls. “The way it was put together, how it drove; it just all seemed to be a different world to me.”

As a Colorado resident, he went from tinkering to tuning, and soon had the Jetta impressing friends in the local car scene with its performance. Before long they were bringing their own performance rides to Adams.

“With four to six cars in front of my house and in the driveway, it got to the point where I knew I could not sustain that for much longer; I had to do something,” he notes. “The fear of having a $500-$600 a month single bay garage rent payment kind of terrified me — but I decided to do it anyway.”

It was a rough start; that first facility was hidden behind a concrete business, and the first year or two he worked full time at another job, going to the shop at night. But eventually Adams deemed his little venture sustainable, and left what he described as a good-paying gig to dive into Bluewater.

“At the same time I knew that I didn’t have the money to develop this great marketing plan for the business, where I could branch out into all this repair and maintenance stuff,” he explains. “If I all of sudden opened up as another generic repair shop, I’d be competing against 10,000 other shops without any reputation to distinguish me.”

So Adams decided to build that reputation from the ground up. “I focused on not just a single brand, but a single model: the Volkswagen R32,” he continues. “I decided to perfect how I did performance tuning, upgrades, and repairs on it; there wasn’t going to be anyone better in the country than me on this single vehicle.”

He gradually expanded with similar models, like GTIs and Jettas. “Then maybe three or four years into this I decided to branch out to all-Audi, all-Volkswagen,” eventually adding Porsche and BMW, Adams notes. “We started doing oil changes, tire rotations, alignments. By that point it was easy to get people from the performance side to be comfortable with us going into their vehicle to do simple maintenance and diagnostics.”

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