ASE master tech opens new DIY auto repair shop in New Jersey

June 15, 2022
Since opening three months ago, the owner has doubled his income every month.

Matthew Alphonse, an ASE master certified technician, was fed up with the “outrageous fees” he was seeing for car repairs. Last year, his wife had to take in her Mercedes S-Class for B-level service, and she was charged $499 for an oil change, reset the service light, and balance.

“I couldn’t justify spending the $500 knowing it wasn’t a rotate, and it was just a glorified oil change,” he said. “That opened my eyes in terms of seeing a real problem between a person like myself who knows how to work on cars and being subjected to have to pay for an outrageous fee for traditional repair.”

To help solve this problem, Alphonse opened U Wrench It Auto, an auto repair shop in Palmyra, N.J., that allows individuals to fix their cars themselves, either completely independently or with the help of a technician. There are a variety of packages available for the customers, including the use of just a bay for $19.99 per hour, using the lift bay with a technician for $49.99 per hour, and the MVP package for expert DIY’ers at $650 per month. Alphonse also offers traditional vehicle repair as well.

“The whole model is to empower people to come in and do it themselves,” said Alphonse. “The feedback from the DIY community has been great, and it has propelled the growth thus far.”

Whatever package is purchased will outline Alphonse’s involvement. For example, if a customer purchases the “lift bay with technician” package, and they need to fix their brakes for a state inspection, Alphonse will put the car on the lift for them, show them how to use the tools, explain what bolt to remove and why — essentially working shoulder-to-shoulder with the customer. 

“That way they don’t just do the repair, but my idea is to empower them to do it themselves, so that way, they can do it again on their next car, and they feel more confident with the repair, and they come back and do something else — a little bit more that expert level repair,” he said. “I want them to be successful in the learning process as well.”

According to his customer surveys, 72 percent of his customers are DIY’ers, and 42 percent of them have come back for a second time or a third time. 

Liability

One of Alphonse’s biggest concerns when starting this business was around liability. He met with lawyers, and his insurance company and while it varies state to state, in New Jersey, he is not liable if something happens with one of the customers’ vehicles, unless they can prove he was being negligent.

“For example, negligence proven would be if a lift was not working right, and a lift inspector came out and said, ‘Listen, do not use this lift. It’s not safe.’ He leaves, he orders a part, and in the meantime, I make the decision to still go ahead and use the lift. Later on, something happens to the car or customer, and I am now held liable,” he explained.

Alphonse also has all customers sign a waiver that was drafted by a lawyer to further protect him, and his insurance covers him in the event of being sued. 

All customers are required to watch a safety video, they have to wear proper personal protective equipment, and there are rules for certain equipment that only Alphonse can operate. For example, he controls the lifts and the spring compressor. 

Business success 

Alphonse is a highly trained and experienced technician who was an A-level tech and a shop foreman at a dealership before starting this new business on March 1. Since opening up, he has doubled his income every month, but he notes it’s not the best way to make money; it’s more about helping others.

“If I have a traditional car [repair] that comes in here, in 30 minutes I can make up to one hour," he said. "That’s labor rate. The DIY I have to physically be involved in is slashed to 33 percent of that, but my thought process long term is to have one tech per three cars, so then you are always tripling the amount.”

Future outlook

Right now, Alphonse is the only technician in the shop, but he would like to add another technician or two on staff at some point. He is clear when he does, they won’t be commission based, but rather they would be paid hourly or perhaps receive a percentage of the profits.

“I don’t want you to come in and us say, ‘You need X, Y and Z,” he said. “I definitely don’t want to further employ that upselling to the consumer. I don’t want that to happen.”

It took almost a year of proposals, lawyers, insurance companies, and small business development centers before Alponse was ready to open his doors, but now he is very knowledgeable on the process and is providing consulting services to other shops who are considering this model. He is also contemplating franchising in the future if there is enough interest. 

“If you are somebody who is passionate about helping people and wants to bridge that gap between the car community and DIY’er and solve that problem,” Alphonse said, “I would say go for it.”

About the Author

Amanda Silliker

Amanda Silliker is the former editorial director of the Vehicle Repair Group at Endeavor Business Media. She oversaw five brands  — Motor Age, PTEN, Professional Distributor, ABRNand Aftermarket Business World. Prior to her tenure with Endeavor, she had over a decade in B2B publishing at Thomson Reuters, ranging from writing and editing content for print and web to managing awards programs and speaking at conferences and industry events. Connect with her on LinkedIn

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