Quality Wins Out

Feb. 2, 2016
A high ARO allows Mike Keane to produce over $1 million with three techs and 1,800 square feet

What do Bruce Willis, Rob Thomas, Keith Richards and Ralph Lauren all have in common? They’re all celebrities, they’re all millionaires—and they’ve all had their cars serviced at Keane’s Autoworks.

And if you’ve seen the exterior of Mike Keane’s auto repair shop … that may surprise you. The small, 1,800-square-foot building sports a painted brick exterior, dirt floors, hosts three lifts and three technicians, and is filled with days of scheduled repairs in its parking lot.

These next facts may surprise you even more: Autoworks has a monthly car count of 180, an average repair order of $500, and annual revenue just north of $1 million.

One more number: Mike Keane is only 27 years old.

While Keane’s high ARO is fueled by business from high-end clientele in the wealthy Bedford Hills, N.Y., area, his small all-star team prides itself on taking every job and balancing high-dollar jobs with everyday maintenance—from Honda timing belt replacements to Ferrari full-engine rebuilds; from an Acura tire change to diagnostic work on a BMW; from a line of local plumbing vans to a fleet of limos.

“We just don't say no to anything,” Keane says. “I think I’ve turned two cars away in four years.”

Since opening in 2011, Keane’s Bedford Hills location has been so successful at landing high-ARO work that he opened a second shop 30 minutes away in Ridgefield, Conn., to load-lift extra jobs. Keane says Autoworks’ growth and reputation as a trustworthy auto repair shop is all due to word-of-mouth referrals, strategic advertising, a knowledgeable crew and one basic mantra:

“Treat the people right and fix the cars right,” Keane says. “It’s a simple concept.”

If Keane’s Autoworks is proving anything, it’s that size and aesthetics can take you only so far, but quality always wins out.

A Dealership Alternative

When a 12-cylinder, mid-engine Italian sports car known as the Ferrari F512M Testarossa rolled into the parking lot back in 2011, Keane’s Autoworks was still in the baby stages. The owner was new, business was slow, they had no marketing presence, and the old-school facility wasn’t exactly attracting walk-in traffic.

For his first job after studying mechanical engineering and business management in college, Keane had been performing oil changes and tune-ups in the tiny garage that would become Keane’s Autoworks—after he took over when the previous owner was evicted by the landlord. Hesitant at first, Keane’s two fellow technicians—with their combined 50 years of experience repairing vehicles—offered their guidance and encouraged the young, enthusiastic 22-year-old entrepreneur to take on the shop.

You can also add a mountain of debt to the mix—Keane had taken out loans and bought $80,000 worth of scanners and tools and upgraded the shop’s lifts and tire machines—to get the full picture.

So, you can imagine Keane’s surprise when the owner of a vehicle once valued at $220,000 called the shop, looking for a competitive estimate.

Fresh off winning the New York Lottery, the wealthy Ferrari owner exemplified what would become Keane’s Autowork’s main marketing angle after the job: The dealership was charging $45,000 for a complete engine rebuild, and the driver was hoping to find a more reasonable quote—and Keane offered just that.

“We took on the job, and that was pretty much what started it all,” Keane says. “It was word-of-mouth after that.”

On the streets of Westchester County, Keane says you’ll find BMWs, Audis and Mercedes, all driven by owners looking for alternatives to excessive dealership prices. Unfortunately, Keane says most non-dealership options in the county aren’t equipped with the proper scanners and technical knowledge to handle expensive European models.

So, after hearing complaints from a few high-end customers, Keane decided to advertise his business as a fully equipped, affordable option staffed with the best technicians in town.

“I get more business from the dealers than anyone,” he says. “They're so overpriced it's ridiculous. I don't even know where they get the numbers. We look at it, and they don’t need half of the stuff on the list. Either that, or we’ll do everything on their list plus more and our bill is still $2,500 less.”

An All-Star Team

To say “space is tight” at Keane’s Autoworks would be an understatement. On the 1,300-square-foot repair floor, the tire machine and balancer “take up half the shop,” the center bay is equipped with a 12,000-lb. Mohawk lift reserved for big jobs, and the two accompanying bays are outfitted with smaller lifts. In between the lifts, Keane says you can find at least three cars being serviced for oil changes and valve cover replacements on the ground.

“You’ve seen those Ferrari shops, those exotic car dealerships, those shops where you can eat off the floor,” Keane says. “Here, we have a dirt floor. We'll be replacing ball joints on a Tahoe, and then the guy in the next bay will be doing two tires and a service on a F430.”

Burdened with a less-than-attractive shop and limited space, Keane knew he’d have to hire the area’s top talent to continue getting the high-dollar work after the Ferrari engine rebuild—which meant paying top-tier salaries.

For Keane, matching the average salaries of his dealership competitors and offering weekly, monthly and yearly bonuses and overtime pay for extra work is well worth the investment. It’s what fuels his team to work 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. six days per week; to push out 45 cars per week between three bays and three technicians; to give their customers the ultimate customer service treatment.

“One guy will go to customers' kids’ sports games, just to show how much we appreciate their business,” he says. “That's the main thing. People like feeling welcomed. My guys take the time to talk to everyone, and we never feel rushed. Every job and customer interaction is worthwhile.”

For a shop that takes on everything, Keane says having well-rounded technicians is key. He has employees that specialize in certain repairs—BMWs, Mercedes, Audis, and even hybrids—but the collaborative environment at Autoworks allows his entire staff to offer tips and learn from one another.

“Most of my guys can take on anything at this point, because they've all been teaching each other different stuff,” he says.

Expanding to Ritchfield

When Keane’s Autoworks opened in Bedford Hills, business was slow. But for two years, Keane had been crafting a recipe for success, which has allowed his new, slightly larger 3,000-square-foot Ritchfield, Conn., location—which is staffed with only two technicians—to achieve an ARO of $650.

To draw in dealership customers, Keane has scripted a pitch for television and radio that brought in customers like the Ferrari owner:

“We are Ritchfield’s alternative to the high-priced dealership service centers. Our ASE-certified techs specialize in all European makes and models. If your vehicle needs any service or repair, come visit the experts at Keane’s Autoworks. Our competitive prices beat the dealership every time.”

Keane has also pieced together a benefits and salary package that has kept his employees working hard, and allows him to recruit top talent around town. He isn’t afraid to make an offer and “steal” technicians from competing dealerships—which is exactly how he recruited his lead tech at the Ritchfield location.

So once you’ve got the quality technicians, and you’re advertising yourself as a dealership alternative, how do you take that last step? How do you convince everyone in town that you truly offer the best quality auto service?

Well, for Keane, that was simple: Let the celebrities do the talking for you.

After setting up stories about the Ritchfield shop in three different area newspapers, Keane then recruited one of his more famous celebrity customers, Rob Thomas, lead singer of Matchbox Twenty, to offer a bump in business.

“I have a bunch of guitars on my wall, so he signed one of them and took a picture with me to put in the paper to help build the business,” Keane says. “And it just took off from there.”

With his Ritchfield location booming, Keane is turning his attention back to his original facility. After officially purchasing the property for the Bedford Hills location in December, he’s looking to upgrade those dirt floors to white epoxy and outfit the building to match the quality of his shop’s repairs.

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