– Words by Lauren Kramer Photography by Lia Crowe
From the sidelines, it’s easy to look at a successful business and assume success came easily. But the truth is isn’t always so.
Take Motor Werke, a Kelowna-based, locally owned company that specializes in mechanical services to European vehicles such as Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mercedes, Mini, Volvo and Porsche. Today it’s humming: the 13-year-old business has nine service bays and 20 staff and tends to some 200 vehicles each month. Its focus is inspections, diagnostics, repairs, upgrades and maintenance, and it also offers a wax shop to get customers’ cars gleaming.
Owner Chris Germana, 44, has his eyes set firmly on the future. He’s bringing young partners into the fold, expanding the physical footprint of the garage and welcoming apprentice mechanics to learn the trade.
“As a business owner I’ve learned the most important thing you can do is take what you’ve learned and share it by investing in other people,” Chris reflects. “We’ve doubled our staff numbers in the last few years, we have four new apprentices and we are actively developing young people. It’s so gratifying watching others grow around us and being a part of the mentorship process.”
But the road to this success wasn’t without its bumps and curves.
When he graduated high school in Stoney Creek, Ontario, Chris had no idea what career path he’d follow. After a brief stint at an arts school, he job-shadowed a mechanic and quickly realized his love of European vehicles exceeded his love of art and design.
“I always wanted to own a Porsche 911 and a BMW E30, so I decided to get into an industry where I’m around cars all day,” he says.
He found the educational program that would teach him the skills he needed at Arizona’s Universal Technical Institute, but the $35,000 tuition was the first hurdle he needed to overcome.
Determined to enrol, he spent 18 months working full time for the Ontario school board and stocking shelves at a local grocery store on weekends, saving every penny of his wages. A loan from a family member sealed the deal and in 2000, Chris headed to Phoenix.
For the next four years he studied for his mechanic certification and worked at a BMW dealership in Scottsdale. Serendipitously, he met folks along the way who mentored and helped him.
“As an international student I had to work harder than domestic students to get into the program and to find a sponsor,” he recalls.
At the condominium complex where he lived, his study overlooked the swimming pool and another resident—who happened to supply automotive equipment—noticed the young Chris was always at his desk studying. The two struck up a conversation in the shared laundry room and Chris’s new friend helped him connect with the right folks in the industry, who in turn sponsored a work permit that allowed him to stay on and work after he graduated.
By 2004, Chris was missing Canada and ready to return home. He found work as a mechanic in dealerships in Southern Ontario, met his wife and started a family. But living an hour from Toronto, his daily commute was a killer.
When the family vacationed in the Okanagan in 2006, Chris fell in love with the region. Ready for a lifestyle change, he relocated the family to British Columbia just months after that first visit, settling in Kelowna. Determined to open his own automotive business, he enrolled in some business courses and, in March 2009, opened the doors of Motor Werke in central Kelowna.
The first few years presented a steep learning curve as the business endured its share of growing pains, Chris recalls, adding, “But I was lucky to meet great people who became my mentors, equipping me with the tools, tips and knowledge I needed to get through that period.”
Motor Werke specializes in European brands but also services Japanese vehicles.
“We’re really in business to take care of people and serve them well, so while we specialize in certain brands, we don’t turn anyone away,” he says.
Part of that care package includes a fleet of 15 courtesy cars. If one is unavailable, customers are shuttled back home while their cars are in the shop.
“People don’t expect to get treated and respected the way they are treated at Motor Werke,” Chris says. “Women in particular—we want women to feel confident and independent when they walk through our doors. We treat everyone respectfully and never talk down to our customers. Instead, we try to alleviate their anxiety by equipping them with relevant information so that they can make informed decisions.”
In the past five years, he’s watched his company come into its own. He’s proud to have recruited and retained talented young staff, including recruits who hail from all corners of the world, including the UK, Ireland, Scotland, South Africa and eastern Canada.
Recently Chris added three partners to the business, an integral part of his long-term succession plan.
“I don’t want to be the kind of business owner that builds a great business and one day walks away to retire with a big cheque in his pocket,” he says. “I want the people who helped me get where I needed to be get rewarded by becoming owners and taking over the business. This way, I can share the success we’ve had.”
In describing how important the Werke team is to him, Chris speaks about Sir Lewis Hamilton, a British Formula One racing driver. In a recent race, Chris says, Lewis took second spot, losing to his rival Max Verstappen.
“In the post-race interview, Lewis was quick to thank his team for the success they had in the race, and the fans for the great support they provided throughout the race. This is something that Lewis does in almost every interview,” Chris says. “This is an attitude that is common among true champions—acknowledging the people around them that rally together through good times and challenging times to repeat the highest level of performance year after year.”
Chris says that these type of champions walk through Werke every day.
“Our shop is full of great people—both our team and the customers who act as ambassadors for our business. I want to say a big thank you to all of them. I would not be where I am today without them.”