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Summer fun in the sun

Whangamatā on the Coromandel Peninsula is known for its annual Beach Hop, seaside sun, fun, fishing, and surfing (as well as the occasional New Year’s Eve riot). But staff at the Whangamatā Service Centre miss much of the action; kept busy by the annual surge in demand from tens of thousands of summer visitors.

Their breakdowns and urgent repairs come on top of the workshop’s usually full schedule of servicing and maintenance. Along with the usual range of vehicles, the workshop also has a significant number of customers with hot rods, classics, vintage and muscle cars.

Repco Beach Hop madness

The annual town highlight, the Repco Beach Hop, brings its own special frenzy to the town, Business owner Andy Murray says, “We keep the first three days of the Beach Hop clear of all bookings because we get lots of drop-ins from people driving in from around the country who need something repaired urgently.”

Over 100,000 people visit Whangamatā for the Beach Hop, many of them arriving in their latest restoration projects. Official entries for the event are limited to just 1,000 vehicles from the 1950s or 1960s.

Brief history

Andy took over Whangamatā Service Centre in 2010 and has put energy and money into growth.

“I’ve put in good quality hoists; one was such a nightmare to use that the guys wouldn’t touch it, so there was a whole bay that was basically used for storage. We also have a new oil system, which includes taps on all the workbenches – this has halved our service times. Scan tools and software like SAM and Xero have also made us much more efficient,” says Andy.

“I think the best thing I did was joining Auto Super Shoppes a couple of years ago. We benefit from their national advertising, and they provide a lot of useful support and information. The help given with Covid-19 has been great – from the screens, masks and other protective gear they can supply along with lots of explanation of the latest developments and how they affect us.”

He also appreciates the ‘family’ philosophy of the network, which aligns with his own way of operating.

“My staff [there are seven] are my friends and I make sure we are a happy workplace. People with negative attitudes don’t last long here.”

Andy is preparing for a future with more hybrid and EVs in the national fleet. “We are starting to think about finding the extra training that is needed. Picking up people like Dylan Trust, who was a Toyota apprentice and workshop foreman, was also a good move.” Dylan (on right) says, “I came here to learn more about other makes of cars. Here I can be working on plant machinery, trucks, boats as well as all the different makes and models of cars.”

Busy in summer

Gemma te Brake handles much of the customer service, parts ordering and invoicing along with Office Manager Jude Pratt.

“Summer is madness. Most of the suppliers close and we have another 50,000 or more people in town. One of our big issues in summer is storage. We usually have about 30 cars a day coming through, but they can start to back up outside when things get really busy with the drop-ins.”

She says there hasn’t been any significant drop- off in business during the pandemic. “Some people held off on their warrants for a while and there were a couple of quiet weeks through lockdown, but generally we’ve been really steady.”

Gemma’s partner Daryl also works at the Whangamatā Service Centre and she says, like Andy, they have a thing for hot rods. Gemma’s own dream car is a low rider. While it’s still a dream, she’s already worked out that not all of the future car’s mechanical work could be done in-house. “There are only the two workshops in town, and we don’t do hydraulics – so I’ll have to get that part of the project done by Whangamatā Automotive.”