Many business ventures start with passion, although most endeavors in the 21st century seem dominated by three Cs: capability, cooperation and capital. During an industry’s halcyon days, maybe — but as little as eight years ago Bluewater Performance accomplished this feat driven almost exclusively by a passion for performance.
Specializing in European auto repair, this Denver, Colo., business started out as a speed shop in Gabe Adams’ garage. As a kid in Cincinnati, Ohio, Adams had grown up helping his dad build Chevy street machines, but at 16 bought a ‘96 Volkswagen Jetta as his first car.
“Even though it was bottom-tier VW, it just had a different feel to me than a Chevrolet or any domestic vehicle,” Adams recalls. “The way it was put together, how it drove; it just all seemed to be a different world to me.”
As a Colorado resident, he went from tinkering to tuning, and soon had the Jetta impressing friends in the local car scene with its performance. Before long they were bringing their own performance rides to Adams.
“With four to six cars in front of my house and in the driveway, it got to the point where I knew I could not sustain that for much longer; I had to do something,” he notes. “The fear of having a $500-$600 a month single bay garage rent payment kind of terrified me — but I decided to do it anyway.”
It was a rough start; that first facility was hidden behind a concrete business, and the first year or two he worked full time at another job, going to the shop at night. But eventually Adams deemed his little venture sustainable, and left what he described as a good-paying gig to dive into Bluewater.
“At the same time I knew that I didn’t have the money to develop this great marketing plan for the business, where I could branch out into all this repair and maintenance stuff,” he explains. “If I all of sudden opened up as another generic repair shop, I’d be competing against 10,000 other shops without any reputation to distinguish me.”
So Adams decided to build that reputation from the ground up. “I focused on not just a single brand, but a single model: the Volkswagen R32,” he continues. “I decided to perfect how I did performance tuning, upgrades, and repairs on it; there wasn’t going to be anyone better in the country than me on this single vehicle.”
He gradually expanded with similar models, like GTIs and Jettas. “Then maybe three or four years into this I decided to branch out to all-Audi, all-Volkswagen,” eventually adding Porsche and BMW, Adams notes. “We started doing oil changes, tire rotations, alignments. By that point it was easy to get people from the performance side to be comfortable with us going into their vehicle to do simple maintenance and diagnostics.”
Because one aspect of the European performance market is that these cars are frequently also daily drivers. “I would honestly say that these are close to 80+% of the performance vehicles that we do,” Adams estimates. “So it’s extremely important that not only does the car meet customers’ performance expectations, but that it’s also extremely reliable.”
Meanwhile Adams was putting everything he had back into the shop. “For the longest time I lived as if I was broke, homeless,” he laughs. “Alignment machine, tire changers, all-wheel dyno; it was never one big purchase, just as I could afford it. I want the latest and greatest, even if it’s an A/C recharging machine; I want to offer the same things a dealership can.”
One tool that’s helping achieve this goal has been the Shop-Ware program, management software which “promotes business wellness, maximizes productivity and teamwork, and wins with customers by streamlining sales and bolstering…online reputation,” according to their website.
“I’ve always been using Google Calendar for scheduling and Quick Books for writing tickets,” concedes Adams. “But (Shop-Ware) can text updates, send photos or videos directly to the customer; you don’t have to take time out of your day to schedule a call. I can send estimates to your phone and you can approve it right then. Compared to what I was using before, all the external features from my company to the customer just exploded.”
Shop-Ware also consolidated the shop’s scattershot memos system. Because according to a Bosch press release, “all North American BCS (Bosch Car Service) shops receive access to tailored systems that can be customized to their needs, including customer access to job status, financial reporting, workflow management, technician productivity, estimating, online parts ordering through Parts Tech and more.”
That “more” included Bosch selecting Bluewater Performance to beta test a program tying one of their scan tools into the Shop-Ware system. “A vehicle comes in and I have one of my technicians scan that vehicle,” explains Adams. “That entire scan automatically gets uploaded through Shop-Ware to the customer’s profile, where they can see it. Now my techs don’t have to print out the scan, hand it to the service writer, or find a way to copy it down as a PDF.
“That’s something that is going to be released I think either at the end of this year, or early next year, so anybody who has Shop-Ware and one of the Bosch ADS 625 tools, that automatic integration will be there for them at no extra cost.”
For Adams, the performance of the shop itself has become his passion. “We have roughly 10,000 square feet and it’s manageable,” he notes. “It’s very busy but not overwhelming. If anything, we might look into opening another location, but I’d have to make sure all my processes are perfect at this one before I think about that.”
Bottom line: “we’re enthusiasts,” states Adams. Two of his employees race an Audi RS3 LMS they custom upgraded for the Pike’s Peak hill climb. “We’re trying to break a record in the front wheel drive class. We also go to car club meets, we’re in the neighborhoods doing car-related stuff; we love doing this, and we want to help other people out with their passion for these cars.”
This feature article on Bluewater Performance can be found at Motorage.com – https://www.searchautoparts.com/motorage/shop-profile-service-repair/repair-shops-passion-performance-drives-success
Written by Robert Bravender; Wednesday, November 6th, 2019