There are a few themes which repeat on many occasions as NZTODAY travels the country and meets MTA members in widely differing fields. First, the motor industry in its myriad of guises is supported by a huge number of family-owned and operated businesses.
Second, is seems more a vocation than a job for many, with many members having worked in the industry their entire lives.
And the third and possibly most essential in terms of long term survival in terms in today’s constantly changing (and challenging) business environment, is the ability to change and diversify as necessity and/or opportunity dictates.
Northend Motors in the South Canterbury town of Geraldine is an example of all of these in action. Owned and run by father and son combination of Miles and Ryan Marsden, they have shown their faith in the industry by recently moving to new, purpose-built premises as they expand their vehicle repair and light engineering business.
Miles is one of the industry’s old hands, with 40 years’ service under his belt and he is the third generation mechanic in his family, with son Ryan carrying on the family tradition as well. Starting out with Mt Cook, he spent 12 years working for them. In 1998 he took the plunge to go into business himself and bought Northend Motors, at that time still based in the Mt Cook building on the main street.
Ryan chose a rather different path, leaving Geraldine at age 17 to join the Navy, where he qualified as a marine engineer. After leaving the Navy, he retained his nautical association and worked as the engineer on super yachts.
Yet at heart he remained a Geraldine boy and eventually the call of the town he loves was too much and he returned to his home and roots. But he still didn’t quite give away his nautical links, taking up Jet sprinting, with help from Miles working on the highly stressed engines these boats run. The association with water does seem now to have been finally severed, if not the love of highspeed sport, this urge now served by competing in speedway saloon racing, and Miles remains the guy with the spanners working on the engine.
Looking forward to the future, in May of this year Miles and Ryan moved Northend Motors into a new, purposebuilt building just off the main street and a huge step forward from the original Mt Cook premises from where they had been operating.
With five hoists and four full-time mechanics on the payroll, they have also taken on an apprentice, in this instance a German with experience in the European motor industry. He is certainly taking on a whole new learning experience here as the workshop takes on everything from golf carts to tractors (and on the day I was there, examples of both could be seen taking their turn for attention).
As far as the Marsdens are concerned, any garage with five mechanics with an eye to the future should have an apprentice as part of their workforce and they regard having good, loyal staff as their most valuable asset.
In the time the business has been operating, things have certainly changed. As sheep farming has given way to dairying, the population is now of a far more transient nature as workers pass through or move on to better things. At the same time, the regular customers become more than just customers. Instead, many become friends and the Marsden’s even get invited to weddings of people they have met through the garage.
As additional strings to their bow, they are also the local AA contract garage but have seen the number of after-hours calls reduce by 50%, not because cars are any more reliable, but because the number of cars on the road passing through has dropped.
The New Zealand hydraulics agency they hold brings in extra work as well and they have recently started a car grooming operation (if I had my wits about me, I should have had them try their skills on the faithful, if longsuffering NZT Mondeo!).
Keeping to the theme of looking for other outlets to help bring customers in, the small parts department is about to undergo a huge change as thanks to the opportunity presented with the opening of their new premises, they are about to become a Repco outlet.
The auto-parts giant is looking to expand its presence in small centres, and working alongside existing local operators on a mutually beneficial basis, they don’t have to buy or construct premises, while outfits like Northend Motors are presented with a great opportunity to expand what they do and at the same time bring a whole new circle of customers into contact with the other services they offer.
With an attitude of “we will try anything” and a wide range of skills to call on from the small team, Miles and Ryan seem to have a very firm idea of what the future holds for them, and it looks bright!
What is more New Zealand than this scene? A thriving garage which can fix anything. Here as you can see, customers don’t always turn up in the family hatchback!
The men behind it all, father and son team Miles and Ryan Marsden, one a thirdgeneration mechanic, the other a former Naval engineer.
As you would expect of a rural garage and workshop, the parts department is well stocked and that is before the impending arrival of Repco
Yes, that golf cart is in the workshop for repair work.
Inside the new showroom, this blank canvas is about to be transformed into a Repco outlet