TROY, Mich.-``Midnight auto repair'' has kind of a shady connotation, but these guys are hardly fly-by-nighters. More like fly-all-nighters.
A relatively new Troy auto service shop has the customers flocking in to take advantage of what no one would mistake as ``banker's hours.'' All Night Auto Inc. does just what its name insinuates, fixing cars well into the night while its patrons sleep.
In a way, the business was born in November 1994 out of frustration: Rich Kohl, an accounting graduate and one of the shop's three owners, could never find the time to get his car repaired. So he and friends, Robert Shank, 30, an auto mechanic, and Dennis Spencer, 26, who works for a fire sprinkler company, decided to open All Night Auto.
Mr. Kohl handles the bookkeeping-and sometimes an oil change-during the day. Mr. Shank is head mechanic and Mr. Spencer manages the night operation. ``I wanted to own my own business,'' Mr. Kohl said, ``but I never thought I'd be doing this.''
``It's been going great-the late hours have been helping out a lot because hardly any shops in thisarea stay open late,'' Mr. Shank told TIRE BUSINESS. ``It's what our concept is: to stay open late to serve the public, because most people work days.''
Mr. Kohl, 25, said ``people need their cars during the day,'' so the shop-which also has a shuttle service to get customers to and from work-gets ``a lot of people dropping off their cars after work.
``They can pick them up before midnight or before they go to work the next morning.''
The shop operates seven days a week, is supposed to close at midnight, but often is open until at least 3 a.m. Weekday evenings are usually the busiest, Mr. Shank said, with some customers even coming in between 11 p.m. and midnight. On weekends, the shop is hopping during the day.
``Sometimes I drop my car off at 10 or 11 p.m. and pick it up the next morning,'' said John Hanjiantoniou, a West Bloomfield, Mich., businessman. ``It works perfectly for me.''
``We don't turn customers away,'' Mr. Shank said, adding that when the shop gets too busy and can't handle the load, when possible ``we reschedule them for another day. It's not good to turn them away.''
For Troy-mostly a white collar area of auto industry-related businesses, including engineering firms-the shop's night owl hours have proven to be a popular ticket. So much so that only two months after it opened, All Night Auto had to expand from its initial four service bays to its current 10.
The partners hope to make it a 24-hour operation eventually, and Mr. Shank said plans call for opening a second shop, in Sterling Heights, Mich., sometime this summer.
What's good for the customers may take a little getting used to for All Night Auto's 12 employees, including eight ASA-certified technicians.
They work what Mr. Shank described as a ``fireman's schedule:'' four days of 10 hours, followed by three days off. He admitted he hasn't figured out who'll pull the graveyard shift when the business goes to round-the-clock hours, but said, ``I may be working all night myself.''
An automotive technician 14 years, Mr. Shank has been ASA-certified since he was 16. Before the all-night venture, he worked for several new-car dealerships as well as Ford Motor Co.'s proving grounds. He also ran his own shop for a time, though he said a ``bad location'' eventually did him in.
All Night Auto sells all brands of tires, according to Mr. Shank, but tire service pretty much takes a back seat to automotive repairs covering the gamut from complete engine overhaul or replacement to undercar service and some exhaust work. Everything, that is, except transmission repairs because the garage, located in an industrial strip mall, shares quarters with a transmission shop and agreed not to compete.
Advertising in a couple of local papers plus sending out coupons via direct mail helped give the company its initial boost. But now customers mostly hear about the shop by word of mouth.
And since All Night Auto was the subject of a recent front-page article in the Detroit News, Mr. Shank said, ``We've been swamped.'' That seems to have competitors ``a little worried.''
Another nearby automotive repair shop recently started advertising that it was ``open nights'' a couple days a week, although Mr. Shank said, ``They don't stay open as late as we do.''