Self-Service Garage, Sir? The phenomenon is unlikely to take off in over-insured Ireland, but in France, the notion is catching on fast
This September, Roger Rodriquez launched a self-service garage called “Pièces Auto Service” in the town of Marly on the outskirts of Metz in the Moselle department of eastern France.
It’s just one of many such places that the French call “Self Garages” that have popped up across the country in the last couple of years and the idea came Roger one day when he “came across a man in an underground car park who was changing his tyres himself and was complaining of not having anywhere else suitable to do such a job in the region.”
52-year-old Rodriquez was formerly a dealer of spare parts for Ford. He then became an independent spare parts dealer and he can buy spares at preferential rates, which he passes on to the clients of his self-service garage. This allows him to be “between 15% and 50% cheaper than standard garages,” he estimates.
It’s the first time that 43-year-old Stéphane David is changing the oil in his car. It’s suspended above him on one of the two lifts in the garage where Mr Rodriguez is giving him some discreet assistance. Mr David seems to be in his element:
“Doing it yourself is very gratifying; it’s a bit like cooking – afterwards, you’re really proud of the result… and when you’re on the dole like I am, you don’t turn your nose up at a saving of €20 or €30.”
Mr Rodgriguez himself has been no stranger to the dole queue in the past and he offers discounts to those seeking work.“The normal garages try everything to make your bill bigger. Here, you’re only paying for the necessary,” says Yves Blanchard, a 73-year-old pensioner who has also come in to change the oil on his vehicle.
“This kind of concept is a direct result of the financial crisis,” when labour costs of the normal garages became “more and more expensive,” according to Nicolas Chevallier, founder and administrator since 2009 of the website www.selfgarage.org – an online directory of self-service garages around France. The list is over 100 long and still growing.
“Lots of mechanics found themselves on the dole queue and decided to launch their own set-up,” he says, encouraged by the advantages of a self-employed status. The type of operation that the self-service garage provides, he says, is usually limited to the most profitable, quick and uncomplicated jobs – “ones that don’t need much by way of qualifications”, such as oil and filter changing or changing the brake pads.
Another element contributing to the growth of the self-garage is the fact that it has become very easy for people to get whatever car parts they need online through websites such as oscaro.com, yakarouler.com or mister-auto.com. As many garages will refuse to have anything to do with such parts for issues of insurance and guarantee, more and more motorists are turning to the self-service model, according to Olivier Hoarau, a “self-garagiste” from the Bordeaux area. He set up vgass.com – an internet site that acts as directory and advice forum from professional mechanics, with a view to ensuring good practice in the nascent sector.
“A lot of people think that it’s a bit of a gold mine,” says Mr Hoarau. “but you must get the message across to clients that he’s not necessarily going to save loads of money, because he simply doesn’t know how to do a mechanic’s job – that’s still the preserve of the professionals.
“You need to ensure that you have an area that’s safe for the client to use,” to set limits for them and to be completely clear on the pricing structure, “because if the self-service garage is badly managed, the concept will be dead in the water within two years,” warns Mr Hoarau.