The advantage of running a mechanical repair business in an inner-city car parking building is you have a big pool of potential customers right at your roller door.
Therapy Centre in downtown Wellington is tucked into a corner on Level 9 of Plimmer Towers, operating four repair bays and with 10 car parks for customers. Current owner is Martin Harrison, who bought the business in 2012. “I started out here doing work experience for my pre-trade course and was lucky to be able to stay on.” When the previous owner was ready to retire, Martin and the apprentice Dave McAdam took over. “After about a year, Dave moved into the banking sector and I took full ownership.” Martin has been careful to grow the business – marketing it to those who park or work in Plimmer Towers and encouraging customers to leave Google reviews.
“We have also kept improving the website. We enter lots of key words to improve the SEO (Search Engine Optimiser) and regularly update the content. Over the years we’ve gone from no enquiries via the website to probably about 5 percent of our work coming in this way.” His marketing includes leaving a sticker on the rear window of each car that leaves the workshop. “It can be easily removed if the owner doesn’t want it but I’ve only ever had one person complain about it. “I’ve also put out leaflets on cars at Porirua railway stations advertising our service and the free parking for the day that comes with it.”
Business was going well until mid-March last year. Martin was playing in various cricket tournaments when a player tested positive for Covid-19. Martin and his staff can now claim to be among the first Kiwis to be forced into self-isolation and to go through the contact tracing system. “Then the whole country went into lockdown.” Wellington City emptied out for over three months. When the customers dried up, one mechanic left to take up another job, leaving Martin, his dad Bernard and newbie Liam Galbraith-Smith to carry on. “Liam started with us through the school Gateway programme, coming in for work experience and last year finished his pretrade course. He’s now ready to start his apprenticeship with us.” Work has picked up, particularly since October when the grace period for expired warrants ended. He reckons he’s now operating at about 80 percent of his usual capacity and is scheduling customers’ work in for these days they come into the city to work.
A downside of working in a parking building is that it is largely empty at night – giving thieves an opportunity to commit crime. He’s still getting over the effort someone put into smashing their way through a wall into the workshop to steal tools and other gear over a year ago. He hasn’t been able to replace everything that was stolen and he reckons the quality of some of the replacement tools is inferior to his older gear. “And every now and then I go to get some particular spanner or something I only use occasionally and discover that it too was taken in the break-in.” He has now photographed all the tools in each drawer of the toolboxes to ensure he has a full record. While he has fixed and strengthened the inside wall of the workshop, the landlord has yet to repair the outside.