Rising to the challenge
2021 is a milestone year for Philippa Howie and her business.
Long-time mechanic and workshop manager Peter Morgan has just celebrated 50 years in the trade. Meanwhile Philippa marks the third year since the death of her husband Alastair and feels she has proven his belief in her ability to successfully take on his legacy.
It has been a challenging time for Philippa, who had no previous business experience. But, she says being able to rely on the solid team around her made it easier.
“I couldn’t have done it without them.”
The team is made up of Peter Morgan, who runs the workshop, his daughter Kate, who keeps the office going, while John Reid manages the BP 2Go, assisted by his wife Naomi. They are backed up by mechanic Lyall Brown and a group of part-time and casual forecourt staff.
"We are a family team and everyone has worked here for a long time. That’s why Al thought I could make it work.”
Alastair Howie bought the business (workshop, BP 2Go, rental agency) in 2008.
In 2017 he was diagnosed with cancer and died the following year. Philippa was a teacher and the couple have two young sons. “We were also doing up houses for sale. I did some of the physical work on those projects but Al managed all the business side of everything. He had always wanted his own business.”
Picking up the reins
Philippa had to learn how to run the business while caring for her children, and coping with the loss of her husband,
“There were days when I just couldn’t come into work, but I knew everyone here had my back.” She also had strong support from the local BP business advisor, who arranged for a mentor-consultant to help her through the first year.
“Dave Mullooly was a former BP dealer who came down from Gisborne three days a week. He taught me management and business skills, set up and checked the systems we had. He gave Kate more admin responsibilities and transitioned John into a managerial role – putting him in charge of the service station staff rosters, training and so on.”
It’s been a huge learning curve and Philippa says she has been amazed by all the skills she has learned. “I would never have thought of running a business, but I’ve proved I can do it.”
Owning a business and raising two growing boys isn’t easy. “I come in to work just during school hours but have to do a lot in the evenings to keep up.” She has realised the demands don’t give her as much time for herself and her family as she wanted.
“It was such a hard decision, but I decided to put the business on the market.”
She says Main Street Automotive is almost back to its usual self, following the Covid-19 lockdown. The customers have remained loyal and the workshop is kept busy under the oversight of Peter Morgan.
“I believe the timing is right to give someone else an opportunity to work with a great team, in a solid business, and extend it further.”
Half a century celebrated
There’s not much Peter doesn’t know about engines after 50 years of “poking around under hoods and chassis”. For the past 15 of those years, he’s been looking after the customers at Main Street Auto – he's particularly fond of the chap who brings in his 1930 Chrysler and 1927 Studebaker for maintenance and repair.
“The owner learned to drive in the Studebaker and he had it restored. We had it here for three months while we got the engine working again – it was in pretty good shape as it had been sitting inside for quite a while.”
But his favourite is the Chrysler. “Now that’s a grouse car. I love the Art Deco styling of this big convertible. I get to drive it around the block for the occasional test drive after we’ve worked on it, which is fun.”
Peter answers to the nickname ‘Humpty’. “I was in a car accident when I was young and fractured my neck. There was a plaster cast ‘singlet’ attached to a plaster hood with a hole for my face. I was sitting on a fence cooling off one day and a friend told me I looked like Humpty Dumpty sitting on a wall. That was 47 years ago and the name stuck.”
Recently Peter and his friends and workmates went out for dinner to celebrate his 50th anniversary, with a special cake being a highlight. He’s not planning to retire any time soon, saying “I’ll keep on going for as long as I can.”