By GREGORY ZELLER //
A beta test covering a giant chunk of New York City proved two things to auto-repair innovator Adam Albertelli: A we-bring-the-garage-to-you repair service could work, but it would work better outside the city limits.
Albertelli incorporated Bolt Mechanics late in 2014 after a lengthy licensing process, including final approvals from the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, and immediately set to servicing vehicles in Brooklyn and Queens. His model was fairly simple: Mechanics visit customers, perform oil changes and other maintenance-type work on the spot and bring in vehicles needing more complex solutions – driving them to Bolt’s repair shop if possible and arranging tows as necessary.
But working in NYC proved anything but simple. While Brooklyn and Queens were rich with potential customers, they were too large a geographic area for the small startup to cover – and even in the outer boroughs, busy city streets were often too dangerous for Bolt’s mobile grease monkeys to do their thing.
“It was a really difficult working environment in terms of the large coverage area, the big streets and the amount of traffic,” Albertelli noted. “All of those factors made it not really the best place to start out.”
The best place, he quickly realized, was a suburban setting, somewhere with plenty of cars, quieter streets and few repair/maintenance options that didn’t eat up half-a-day or longer. In short: Long Island.
So, in October, the Poughkeepsie native – who earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering and an MBA in finance at Pennsylvania’s Lehigh University – teamed up with Angelo Minicozzi, a distant relative by marriage and owner of Strong Island Garage, a four-bay shop tucked into Farmingdale’s Heisser Industrial Plaza, and brought his startup east.
Bolt Mechanics could have moved to any suburb – even his native Poughkeepsie would have been a fit – but his connection with Minicozzi was too good to pass up for Albertelli, an amateur automotive enthusiast who tinkers with motorcycles in his spare time and knows a lot more about business than carburetors.
“Coming out here was based on him already having the shop, his general know-how and his ability to save me from some of the pitfalls of running a business like this, such as promising too much,” Albertelli noted. “We don’t claim we can handle everything. In fact, we’ll tell people flat out if they’re better off taking their car someplace else.”
Bolt Mechanics follows self-created guidelines determining which jobs can be done on the spot, which require bringing in the vehicle and which would be better handled by a different mechanic. The list is not set in stone – “every car is different,” Albertelli noted, and what might be a simple fix in one vehicle might be a lot more involved in another – but the CEO can generally predict which jobs can be handled in the field and which require more involved solutions.
“The majority of repairs we handle – belts, alternators, starters – we can handle on site,” he noted. “Certain jobs can become more difficult with higher displacement engines, because the engine compartment gets more cramped. We’ll try to get a vehicle started and drive it in if we need to, and if necessary, we’ll arrange a tow.”
Towing is done by third-party providers on Bolt Mechanics’ private approved list – though in most cases, according to the CEO, a vehicle that requires a tow is not a good Bolt candidate.
“Larger repairs of engines and transmissions are better suited for specialists,” Albertelli said. “We’re really looking more at the maintenance market: oil changes, brakes, suspensions, the more wear-and-tear repairs.”
Albertelli and Minicozzi also follow set guidelines to determine their prices, based on factors including third-party estimates, documented parts costs and fair guesses as to how much labor a particular job might require. The pricing, Albertelli noted, is down the middle – it’s the convenience that pushes Bolt Mechanics over the top.
“This is an innovative solution for businesses and their employees, so those employees don’t have to take two or three hours or lose an entire weekend getting their care serviced,” Albertelli said.
To that end, Bolt Mechanics’ advertising – to date, mostly word-of-mouth, with a few digital shout-outs – has been largely B2B, as opposed to targeting individual car owners. The thinking, according to the CEO, is companies will spread the word among their employees, allowing Bolt to perform multiple jobs at a single location.
Albertelli has been working to connect with chambers of commerce and other organizations that can put Bolt Mechanics in front of customers with multiple employees; there’s been a healthy amount of cold-calling, he noted, and a much-anticipated meeting with the Melville Chamber of Commerce is in the works.
The B2B approach is paying off: Bolt Mechanics has already landed two fleet-level Long Island clients, including a chimney company with about 30 vans and an industrial cleaning company with roughly 10 trucks.
“We go to them on a monthly basis and service their vehicles,” Albertelli noted. “Most commercial vehicles run up such heavy mileage that they need oil changes every month. Now they don’t have to lose their vans for an entire day.”
With their evolving model coming into sharper focus, Bolt Mechanics is looking to expand. If the company can hire enough mechanics, and if those mechanics have enough down time to “fix and flip” some older cars, Strong Island Auto – they kept the name, in addition to the Bolt brand – may attempt to secure a dealership license.
But the company’s No. 1 expansion plan is to grow its we-come-to-you repair business, including the potential hiring of as many as nine additional mechanics by the end of this year.
It’s a “lofty goal,” Albertelli noted, but a healthy one.
“The objective for this year is to really focus on marketing and sales,” the CEO said. “Our No. 1 goal is to expand outside the amount of work we can handle right now.
“The auto-repair industry is poorly served, with a lot of distrust and low customer satisfaction, and for mechanics, poor margins and really not the best quality of life,” Albertelli added. “We’re creating a structure in which the customer can be better served and more mechanics can be gainfully employed.”
Bolt Mechanics Inc.
What’s It? Mobile automotive repairs
Brought To You By: Adam Albertelli (the business guy) and Angelo Minicozzi (the car guy)
All In: About $20,000, self-funded, for website development, licensing costs and marketing
Status: Changing oil in a parking lot near you