Shop Profile: A European’s Recipe for Success – UnderhoodService

Shop Profile: A European’s Recipe for Success

Blend Quality Service with Expert Advice

When the ambitious, young Fred Sonsini, an Italian immigrant, set up his automotive repair business in 1982 in Plymouth Meeting, PA, — Fred Sonsini Imported Luxury and Sports Car Center — he had but a “simple” recipe in mind for achieving business success. Sell “quality” service and repair for vehicles about which he knew best — high-end European cars. Little did Sonsini realize then that this “simple” recipe also called for some of his most deep-seated cultural values on which he was raised.

“As it turned out, for me it was more than about simply making money,” said Sonsini. “I was more ambitious than that. It was about providing quality service and expert advice to a community based on my knowledge and skills. It was about helping motorists have a good driving experience as part of their quality of life. And it was about earning people’s respect and treating them with respect and giving back 200 percent.”

Sonsini runs a six-bay shop with three technicians who specialize in repairing Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Lexus, Porsche, Jaguar, Volvo, Audi, Acura and other import nameplates. He also employs two office staff who handle the administrative and customer service aspects of his business.

Servicing European cars, Sonsini said, has been an advantage as far as profitability is concerned but it also means that the vehicles driven by the average consumer (which are greater in number) are rarely, if ever, seen in his repair bays.

Knowing that European vehicles such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Volvo or Jaguar are often expensive to repair, Sonsini’s approach is to provide his customers with professional advice based on “an evaluation of the car as whole.” “I don’t let them waste their money, say, for example, on a $2,000 transmission job if the car is not worth holding on to,” Sonsini said. “My main goal is to provide value for the money they spend with me and I provide a one-year warranty on all repairs done at this shop.”

According to Sonsini, the two biggest challenges in automotive repair are finding the “right technician” for the job and diagnosing exactly what’s wrong, from among a host of possibilities that today’s complicated, computerized electronic systems present.

“Good, skilled technicians are highly prized in this industry because cars are becoming more computerized and demanding,” he said. Late-model cars are manufactured to function according to very precise measurements and calculations. If there is even a minor maladjustment or leak, things can go awry, he explained. For example, “nowadays, it’s all about “interpreting a code correctly. Say, if you read code 45, it doesn’t mean that only one thing is wrong. The code may be the result of a number of different problems. Figuring out the specific problem and fixing it is the challenge.”

Furthermore, it’s also a matter of using the right products and parts for the repair — products that add value to our service and help us differentiate ourselves from the competition, Sonsini remarked.

Sonsini’s love and care of European vehicles stems from his roots back in his native Pescara, on Italy’s picturesque Adriatic coast. Even today, after close to 40 years in the U.S., he retains his taste for fine cars and fine living, which is apparent in his lifestyle. Sonsini proudly admits he visits his boyhood home in Italy, every year, for 45 days because that is how long a vacation should be — Italian style!

When he was 18, Sonsini opened his own repair shop in Pescara. In the beginning, he mostly worked on motorcycles. However, two years later, when he came to the U.S., he says he completely switched over to being an automotive technician because “motorcycles have such a poor image here.”

Initially, he rented a space in Flourtown, PA, but, within two years, was looking to buy his own space. His shop’s present location opposite a mall in Plymouth Meeting, close to the Pennsylvania Turnpike and other major thoroughfares, has been instrumental in bringing in four to five new customers a week. “They (drivers) see the Mercedes, BMWs and other cars parked outside as they are driving by and pull in; that is the best advertisement I have, apart from family and friends of existing customers,” said Sonsini.

With such a focus on quality service, Sonsini was hardly a difficult sell when a Bosch representative approached him in the late 1980s to join the Bosch Service Center program. What is known today as the Bosch Car Service (BCS) Program in the U.S. began as the Bosch Service Center program in 1985. BCS shops enjoy substantial top-quality Bosch training, access to specialized equipment, technical support, toll-free help desk support, access to the restricted area of the Bosch website, corporate identity, and signage and marketing materials. There are currently 850 authorized Bosch Car Service shops in the U.S.

“The decision was easy,” Sonsini said in reference to joining the Bosch Car Service Program. “Now, I find that I have more information than the dealer. This additional knowledge has helped me repair European cars successfully. I hate to see people pay the money and not get their car fixed right the first time.

“Staying on top of what’s going on in the industry is vital, and Bosch training has been very important to the growth and continued success of my business,” said Sonsini, who pays for his technicians to go for training — either through Bosch or an auto manufacturer — twice a year. “Even when I go home, I read to keep up-to-date on the latest information.”

As a Bosch Car Service facility, Sonsini is required to maintain a clean, neat and well-organized free-standing building on a main street, with at least two qualified technicians, a parking area for customers, and sophisticated test equipment including a scan tool(s) engine analyzer, an exhaust gas analyzer, etc. — standards that are equally important when it comes to servicing his customers.

“In Italy,” Sonsini said, “we’re taught that the customer selects you based on the quality of your work. Style, quality and class set you apart from the competition. So, whatever I do, I do with passion and give not 100 but 200 percent of myself to my work.” As a technician, he never writes off any vehicle as “junk,” but sees his role as that of one who brings the same degree of enthusiasm to every make on which he works.

“He is truly a person who cares,” remarked Byron McClure, a long-time customer at Sonsini’s. Sonsini helped McClure sell his old Volvo and buy a used Range Rover he “fell in love with at first sight.”

Fred Sonsini makes car repair a total experience for his customers. Quality parts, skilled technicians, superior service are all offered with the Italian love for style when one walks through the doors of Fred Sonsini Imported Luxury and Sports Car Center.

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