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SHOP STATS: Atlantic Motorcar Center Location:  Wiscasset, Maine  Owner: Bruce J. Howes Staff Size: 15  Shop Size: 2,900 square feet   Average Monthly Car Count: 221  ARO: $1,292  Annual Revenue: $2.6 million (2021)

Innovation out of necessity.


When Bruce Howes first started in the repair industry back in 1985, there was hardly any dedicated training. Education came through “osmosis” as Howes worked on cars. 

But flash forward to 2021, formal training has become a staple of Howes’ shop. All employees are required to take 16 hours of training per quarter. So when the pandemic hit, Howes needed a way for it to continue in-house.

The solution turned out to be more than just an occasional after hours class in the back of his single location. Howes decided to buy an entirely new building about 200 yards from his current shop that now serves as a working service center and training facility. It's called the Atlantic Training Center. 

There Howes invited outside trainers to come to do training for his staff. It’s also the home base for Howes’ apprentice program that helps keep his stable of techs strong. At the moment, Howes is putting together at least one training session a month but hopes to grow it to a weekly occurrence. 

“I think this is a model that most of us are going to have to go to for the mid-to-large shops. Not just because of COVID but it just makes a lot of economic sense. I see this as a model for the future,” Howes says.


Supporting expansion


Among the reasons Howes made the move was a financial incentive. Howes was regularly sending employees across the country to get training. The price of airfare, hotels and other expenses adds up, not to mention the productivity hit the shop takes while they are away. With the dedicated training facility, it’s become much cheaper to fly in a trainer to train within his space. Howes also invites other local shops to send their employees. And while he has no plans to turn the center for-profit, adding other shops not only helps the industry all together but they help pay for the trainer’s expenses, Howes says. 

“Rising tide lifts all boats,” Howes says. “You’re not a competitor, you’re a colleague. We don’t mind bringing other shops in. 

In the future Howes would also like to expand from just technician training and add operational training for shop owners as well. 


Fit to train.


Formerly a truck reconditioning center, the building needed some updates to get it ready to train. The facility is split in half between office space and service area. The office space has been turned into a group training area with a large conference table and big screen television, while the three-bay service area has been consolidated to two bays. That allows more people to gather around the vehicle to help during hands-on training work, Howes says. 

Among the small list of changes that Howes made was putting in a new epoxy flooring and adding a dedicated parts area in back. He also added air conditioning and high-speed internet. 


Correction: The original version of this story misstated the employee count, as well as the renovation work and service role of the Atlantic Training Center building. It has been updated.

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