Transition to fleet work pays off
Upland, Calif.—Adrian Vartanian’s AV Automotive experienced exponential growth when it changed its business model from general repair to fleet and commercial, including complete diesel service in 2009.
“We did some fleet work from the beginning in 2006, but I saw far greater potential for growth by positioning the shop as fleet specialists,” he said. “Instead of working with one person who owned one vehicle, I could work with one fleet manager who controlled hundreds, even thousands of vehicles.”
To properly service the additional fleet business, the shop installed several new 18,000-pound Forward lifts and 18,000-pound Rotary lifts with extended platforms, a Rotary laser alignment system, and new Ingersoll Rand compressors.
At the same time, technicians needed to get up to speed on every fleet platform, from sedans to Ford Transit vans, as well as every engine and fuel system used.
“We already knew gas and diesel systems and we flew our technicians out for CNG, propane, and new A/C system training,” Vartanian said. “However, most of the training is in-house since there are no classes for what much of we do.”
Vartanian also needed to have mobile service trucks for his fleet customers.
“I would say all together we invested $750,000 in two years, if not more.”
In that time, he purchased a new Ford Transit T250 diesel, a new Transit Connect, two new Mitsubishi Fuso FE180 diesels with 18-foot fiberglass bodies and rail lifts, and two new Hino 195 diesels with 18-foot fiberglass bodies. He also bought four Toyota Camrys, dubbed Vartanian On Wheels (VOW), equipped for roadside assistance.
The mobile service trucks are outfitted with Ingersoll Rand compressors, parts bins, welders, and all of the equipment needed to perform a lot of maintenance work at fleet customers’ facilities – up to and including intake and manifold engine work.
“We also bought new laptops, three Ford tech 2 VCMs, five Snap-on Solus and Modus scan tools, and a Texa Diesel laptop for all of the heavy line work,” he said.
Vartanian keeps $400,000 in parts on hand and performs the more extensive repair work in-house using OEM parts purchased from the dealer or parts from Undercar Plus. The shop also does complete repair and replacement of gas and diesel engines and transmissions.
“I buy new powertrain components from Fairview Ford and Mark Christopher Auto Center, and remanufactured engines and transmissions exclusively from Randy Lewis at Jasper.
“We are Jasper-certified installers and my shop is one of the original Jasper Advisory Group members,” he said. “I mostly use Jasper and if they don’t have it, then I use the dealer – nothing else.”
The success and workload of the shop has resulted in expansion of both the staff and facilities, which now includes three buildings totaling 15,000 square feet, including one building strictly for mounting tires and tire stock, 12 bays, and 20 employees.
The investment and hard work has paid off, Vartanian said, as he now services thousands of fleet vehicles a month, from LA, to San Diego, to Indio, and some parts of Arizona, including Spectrum, AT&T, city, federal, hospital, and private construction companies.
“In 2017, we wrote 6,000 repair orders, using Mitchell 1, with an average of $500 per order, broken down to 60-percent gas, 30-percent diesel, and 10-percent CNG and propane,” he said. “Our only challenge is trying to finish all of the work.”
How it all began
“I started working at the shop the first day it opened, but I knew nothing about cars,” Vartanian said. “My dad, Arsen, who retired six years ago, told me, ‘Don’t ever let a mechanic hold you hostage and don’t ever let a mechanic know more than you.’ So I made sure I learned how to do everything.”
So, Vartanian, who has a BS in biology from USC and was a personal trainer/supervisor, started as a “janitor,” cleaning up the shop and after the technicians.
“I think they were sometimes harder on me because I was the boss’s son,” he said.
From there, Vartanian learned how to mount and balance tires, do oil changes, perform undercar service, and other maintenance tasks. After a couple of years, the technicians said they wanted him to learn diesel repair instead of gas.
“I was soon doing so many diesels. In those days the 6.0Ls kept blowing head gaskets and the 7.3Ls went through EGRs. We kept repairing them over and over and I became very good. I also worked on the Power Stroke 6 . 4 L, 6 . 7L , and the Duramax 6.2L and 6.5L.”
“The techs told me to open up my ears and keep my mouth shut and maybe they’d make a technician out of me.”