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Milan Motors


South Auckland repairer Milan Motors recently joined MTA and its owners are keen to merge the benefits of the brand with their own community ethos.

Milan Motors was set up by Auckland couple Tenari Vai and Ruta Ioane in 2013. They managed to raise $10,000 to buy the equipment, tools and lease of an existing workshop in Massey Road, Mangere East. Tenari had over 20 years’ mechanical experience while Ruta has a marketing and IT background.

“The Massey Road workshop was not doing very well as a business and we knew we could do much better. We had already drawn up our own business plan and had pages and pages of ideas. We saw this as our chance to get our foot in the door”.

Seven years and lots of hard work later, Milan Motors has just moved into a bright new building with four hoists and plenty of room for expansion. They are about to take on two more mechanics and another WoF inspector. They’re also very excited to be approved as MTA members, which opens up new business opportunities for them.

Backing themselves

Ruta says, “Hardwork, motivation and determination were the key to it all in the beginning. Finding the money was the biggest challenge and borrowing was the only option. We didn’t have much to start with so finding innovative ways to bring in new customers and promote ourselves was vital.”

Tenari says, “We worked very hard, very long hours, with me as the only mechanic at first.”

Ruta continued to work full-time and spent her days off at the workshop. She handed out leaflets promoting the business at the nearby Middlemore Hospital and Kings College, did mailbox drops in local neighbourhoods, and canvassed all the shops and businesses to tell them about the workshop and leave cards.

Once the business gained momentum, they put up a large Milan Motors sign on the side of their building “to catch the attention of all the people who pass by, and break down, in the area,” says Ruta. She also designed a website and logo.

Meanwhile, Tenari was going the extra mile in the workshop. “I would always try and do something extra, something the customer would notice. Like clean the wheels, or put in a new rego holder if the old one was shabby, or clean the inside if it was needing it.”

Word got out and within a year and a half they were able to bring on a second mechanic, and then a third six months later.

In July, Milan Motors moved from its old premises in Massey Road to its new workshop on Laureston Avenue in Papatoetoe. Ruta is once again promoting the business and experimenting with some new ideas. “The key is to keep it simple and fresh - we need to get more exposure online.”

Building relationships

It’s expensive to move and with the added impact of the Covid-19 lockdown, the budget was blown. Ruta and Tenari had to find other ways to keep on top of the bills.

“When we moved, we needed a lot of electrical work done, and there was an electrical company right next door with a fleet of around 30 vehicles,” says Ruta. The two companies have swapped services under a credit arrangement and the couple are hopeful they have also gained a long term fleet customer.

Money is not tight for just the couple and their business, it’s also tough for many of their customers. Ruta reckons about 40 percent of their repairs and WoFs are funded by WINZ grants and it’s not unusual for customers to admit they may have trouble paying the bill. The couple have recently begun offering a ‘labour exchange’ as a way to give back to their community. The pair work closely with the Mangere East Family Centre; its services include a community garden, food bank and clothing exchange.

“So if a customer says they can’t pay, we might offer one or two hours off our mechanic’s labour in exchange for the customer working a few hours at the community centre,” explained Ruta. So far, no one has taken up the offer, but the couple are keen to see the idea get off the ground.

Milan Motors also supports young people by being part of the local secondary school’s work experience programme. For the last few years, they’ve had a couple of students spend their Fridays in the workshop, getting some hands-on learning and supportive mentoring from the Milan Motors team. The couple are also keen to show their community that taking up a trade and owning a business are viable career options.

Tenari says when he first came to New Zealand from Samoa he was helped by Barry Laker at East Tamaki Motors and he will always be grateful for that and wants to pass on his good fortune.

Looking ahead

Having just become MTA members, the couple are now looking at further improvements to their business and how best to leverage off the assurance of the MTA brand. Ruta says being able to display the ‘bright blue badge’ allows them to contract for more fleet and insurance work. She’s also keen to take advantage of the networking opportunities that membership brings. “We want to learn from other members and share ideas,” says Ruta.