It’s Autumn in Moscow and we sit down with Oleg Korostelyov, Co-founder and director of VDV. The garage is named after the acronym for Russia’s airborne troops and hosts 26 mechanics alongside eight administrative staff, many of them ex-military. Yellow signs denote the entry to the bustling garage in the Koroshyovsky District of the famous capital.
What is the history of the garage, how did it start?
We started in 1998. Former airborne commandos - officers, sergeants and privates. At first, we had 4 lifts and 9-10 staff. Five years later there were 15 lifts and 48 staff, including managers and accountants. Several guys came to work for us after seeing an advert in the newspaper: “Airborne Car Service and Repairing.” They wished to re-join the family.
Is there anything unique or interesting about your garage? What does it specialise in?
At the beginning we were repairing mostly VW Group cars. We carried out high-standard engine restorations and word quickly spread. One day, a Passat owner came to get a quote for possible repair costs for his 2003 2.0. He had previously visited a couple of garages where he was told a price of around $3500. Our guys opened the engine partly and took a quick look. We promised no more than $1300 with a possibility to reduce this price after we’d completed a total engine disassembling. In the end, it was all done in two days and for no more than $1120.
I’m an old war dog and I should really think about profitability but maybe that is what makes us unique – being fair to our staff and customers? Although, some people do tell us that we could earn more.
Also, in 2011, two teams came to the garage with extensive experience in repairing Japanese cars. Now we are quite a broad multi-brand team.
What kind of culture does the garage have?
Of the 26 mechanics, 12 have higher education, although not always automotive, 10 are automechanical and the rest have different backgrounds.
Is there a funny or memorable moment in the Garage’s history?
One day a customer came to us with his Audi A6, complaining of engine interruptions. Official dealers had refused to fix his issues. First, we found out that interruptions were due to unstable voltage in the on-board wiring, but what was the source of the problem? Our electricians were looking for this bug for several days: they dismantled the upholstery, raised the floors, and separately tested all the components. On the 6th day (!) one of them noticed one of the license plate lights flickering, just like in Hitchcock movies. That faulty light bulb was the reason for the ignition interruption. The work had to be evaluated as the replacement of a light bulb – luckily, the customer had seen the lengths we had gone to and happily paid more.
What are the most technically challenging tasks that you encounter regularly in the workshop?
Here, we do not turn cars into monsters or launch them into space either. Our mechanics are experienced enough to determine faults and repair the car; we always win in the end. As it turns out, most of the challenging tasks are those for the electricians, like the story I’ve just told you!
What is the most valuable characteristic in a technician or employee?
Decency and love for their work. If you do not want to work all your life, then love work and it will become your hobby, for which you also get paid!
Is there any advice you can give to other workshops regarding difficult customers?
They are rare, but I listen to them. I listen until they grow tired of talking. Here it is important to pause, to make sure that they do not want to continue further. Then I ask how, in their opinion, can we get out of the situation, what do they want?
It is believed that such problematic (capricious) customers, having heard that the workshop is open to making concessions, then want everything for free. However, this is not true, I have not met anyone like this. Maybe out of nowhere, or maybe because they don’t know what they want, they might ask for a discount, 5 or 10 percent. I offer 10 or 15 in response and at this moment, the peace agreement seems to fully satisfy all parties.
What do you think will be the major changes in the vehicle service industry in the next 10-15 years?
I believe that we will have to start servicing electric and hybrid cars. I am already starting to think, which type of technicians will be of most value to the workshop - automotive or electromechanical?
Why do you like to work with the products/services provided by DRiV?
It's simple: it is profitable for us to give a guarantee on repairs (work + spare parts). If the item fails, we will have to do the work again, but for free. In addition, now the client will not buy parts from us, but somewhere else, so we will not earn that mark-up again. We also may lose a client due to the impact it has on our reputation. So, obviously, the quality of the parts we use is strategically important for the business. How can you reduce the risk of defective parts? Buy them from trusted manufacturers.
What experiences have you had with the Garage Gurus program?
After our first meeting, the mechanics came up afterwards and asked how often the Guru would be coming in. First-hand information from a global manufacturer is too good a proposal to refuse.
What changes, progress or goals would you like to see your garage achieve in the next five years?
- My partners and I would like to move onto our own private land in our own building. Rent is becoming burdensome.
- If Plan 1 fails, then we will upgrade this hangar.
- I want to see greater numbers of young, technically-literate people. Almost a third of the team we have now are tomorrow's pensioners, who are slowly retiring, so new blood will be needed very soon!