Repair shop offers an auto education

Owner teaches employees, customers about car care

Small business

November 03, 2003|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

If it weren't for a career in the automotive industry, Brian England might have been a teacher. But owning and operating British American Auto Care Inc. hasn't really stopped him.

The owner of the Columbia auto repair shop takes pains through letters, brochures and talks with customers to teach a bit of preventive maintenance on their cars. And each week he also spends a few hours with the newer technicians in his shop, adding to the training they're getting in college.

That focus on education has paid off for the 25-year-old shop. Revenue last year was $2.2 million, and it's expected to hit $2.5 million this year, England said. Profits are growing as well. The company is putting new technicians through training and was recently recognized by the Maryland Chamber of Commerce as Small Business of the Year.

But England says there's more to be done.

"We really concentrate on those customers that want to look after their cars," he said. "Our role in life is to teach people preventive maintenance."

England and his wife, Jennifer, started British American Auto Care in 1978, a few years after the couple emigrated from an area north of London.

He said he learned auto repair in his native country, worked at a repair shop in Rockville and repaired neighbors' cars from home part time before opening the doors of British American in a 1,500-square-foot space in Dobbin Center. When the shop opened, England said, he planned to specialize in British and American vehicles, but the company soon grew to service all makes.

"There really wasn't enough British cars to support a business back in '78," he said.

The company has moved three times since it opened - to a 4,500-square-foot facility in 1981 and to an 8,000-square-foot workshop in 1989 before the company built a 13,500-square- foot building on Berger Road 10 years later.

England has used various methods to teach customers about car care and the automotive industry. The company produces a quarterly newsletter, Hotwire, that keeps readers up-to-date on industry happenings, news about the auto shop and tips on car care.

The company also sends out notices to remind customers of scheduled maintenance and gives customers updates on the condition of their vehicle at each visit. And with each service, the technician leaves a card so customers can rate the shop. Stacks of the cards in England's office show a "good" or "excellent" rating from customers.

The state award is not the first time the shop has been recognized for its efforts in the community. For 18 years the shop has been voted a favorite among Columbia residents by a local magazine, and it is one of the only auto repair facilities in the country to receive the Energy Star for Small Business award from the Environmental Protection Agency - for using radiant heating and making other energy-conscious decisions in the building.

For the state award, the shop was chosen over 63 other nominees. The award was for businesses with six to 50 employees.

George Carr, a customer who stopped in recently for regular maintenance, said he was not surprised the company won.

"I found the people here extremely competent. They know how to communicate, and you can drive away thinking the job has been done," he said. "They seem to enjoy serving people and taking care of you."

England said he is working on a plan that will allow him to spend less time at the auto shop and more time on hobbies.

That plan includes training new technicians. The company has three apprentices who are working at the shop while studying auto repair at Community College of Baltimore County, Catonsville. But England also holds class once a week, training his apprentices in a curriculum he wrote to ensure they are familiar with the theory of a repair before they work on it in the shop.

For England, it's another opportunity to teach what's important to the business.

"Whatever we do, we're really conscientious about it. We want to do the job right. We want to do the apprenticeship right, and you can't always rely on someone else to do it," he said. "The whole company goes for one thing: quality service and repairs."

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