I was directed to a thread this morning "Thumbs up for FF" by another forum member. Having read the contents I believe it's appropriate to clear up some misunderstandings about my business and ethics. I would also like to add I called Phil this morning at 11:31am after reading the posts. I would have preferred to clear any misunderstanding up in private however the public comments were at times incorrect in relation to my business and my conduct.
I wish to clarify Phil's "Annoyance" at me having my own workshop. It is clear from his postings about me that this workshop business is suggested as being a recent event. This is not true. I first became involved in the world of Ferrari in 1992 when I helped a friend prepare his 308 GT/4 for the 1993 Targa Tasmania. in 1994 I built my first Ferrari engine. Fast Forward to 1997 and I had bought a 308 GTB and at the same time opened my first workshop 28 Darling Street, East Melbourne. My full time job at this time was a business involved in the photography industry specifically selling professional camera equipment. Along with working part time as a photographer, and working at the factory on weekends.
Although not a mechanic by trade (My qualifications at that stage: Accounting and Property, A Fine Art Diploma majoring in photography and a Diploma in Chinese Language) I was active in securing the factory workshop manuals and parts books for the cars that were of interest. Specifically, the 308 GTB, but also other vehicles from the period such as the Boxer, 365 Series and testarossa. I studied them carefully and thanks to some friends, was given some cars to work on. I have always been mechanically minded and this was a great outlet for not only using my hands, but also following a keen interest.
Back in 1997 there were very few internet resources and the only Ferrari forum that I knew of was the FerrariList in the USA and I was able to make contacts with knowledegable people there along with various parts suppliers. My first jobs in this little weekend cottage business were changing a clutch in a Mondial T Cabriolet, a major recommissioning of a 365 GT/4 2+2, a service on a 400i and of course playing with my own cars. Mostly, my work was service based, and it was a lot of fun. Often i would leave the camera shop at 5:30 and head to the factory for a few hours. I was already at this time doing work for customers like Aircon and 360C. I did no advertising and all my business was completely referral based.
I was also on the Australian Ferrari Register (Before it became the FCA) committee during this period in the 1990s and contributed to the club magazine by writing technical articles. Some of them are reproduced here on Robert Retzlaff's 308 GTB register website:http://www.r-design.net/308/index_e.html
I saw an opening for a small parts business for older cars as well, and went through this amusing phase of buying some crashed cars at Auction and parting them out along with importing new parts from the USA. This brought me new customers along with gaining a reputation for customer focussed service (You can read my ebay feedback for the transactions during this time to confirm)
This servicing/parts continued part time until December 2001 when I sold my camera business and moved to Hong Kong for 8 months. In mid 2002 I was approached by two brothers whom were mutual friends and we discussed the possibility of opening a tyre shop. The three of us subsequently did so in August 2002. The company structure was then myself and one of the brothers would do the work, the other manned the office and we had one employee.
I moved all my equipment from East Melbourne to 36 Stephenson Street, Richmond. The first year was fantastic. I already had existing relationship with the Porsche Centre and Lance Dixon Ferrari and within 4 months our shop Ascari had the highest UHP sales of any tyre shop in Victoria. We performed mainly Ferrari and Porsche work, with some peripheral brands such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Sadly for the two brothers involved in the business, a year after that, they had a very acrimonious falling out which continues to this day, although I am still friends with both of them. I bought both brothers out during their feud and they departed.
I was still doing Ferrari work as well. Although not one of my favourite models, I had little 355 service work and loyal, good customers like Aircon and 360C supported my business. Mainly I was concentrating on older models however.
Around late 2003 Phil was working just up the road for Maranello Motorsport as a race mechanic for Tony Raftis' race team and was looking to branch out on his own. The result of which Phil ended up sharing 50% of the Richmond factory with me. He could start his Ferrari business and I could concentrate on my tyres and wheel alignments and have my overheads reduced by half. At this time, I stopped without question any Ferrari work (Except to that of my own cars). All Ferrari work was referred directly to Phil. Including the 355 of Aircon's that became the oil leak saga. Even my friends work, I referred straight to Phil. When Phil joined me, I had already been servicing Ferraris for 6 years before he established his own business and approximately 3 years before he even arrived in the country.
Another year went by and things were fine until my Pirelli representative (Bless him!) told me that he had heard that Pirelli were going to go direct to the manufacturer and wipe out middle men such as myself. And they did. Had I continued in that business I would have gone broke within a few months and it's not like I could have begun doing Ferrari service work again from that location. I sold my customer database to a local business but kept all the machinery which I then leased to the Mag Wheel Centre just up the road. I also had an arrangement with them to use their workshop on weekends along with my equipment so I could continue my alignment and suspension work. I am not sure of the exact timing, early 2006 I think, but basically Phil continued on in Richmond for a while then moved his operation to Braeside.
My equipment (I was still doing wheel alignments part time) was subsequently re-located to Phil's large new factory in Braeside after the Mag Wheel Centre ceased during mechanical work about a year later and therefore the equipment was superfluous to them. I made an arrangement with Phil to house the equipment at his Braeside factory and had free access to my tyre changing equipment and wheel aligner and I would do my own alignment work on weekends. The reason I wasn't there full time was because I had an offer too good to refuse from the Leica Camera agency to work full time on some product marketing in Australia along with bringing the seminal digital M8 camera to market. It was supposed to be a 6 month gig but I had so much fun I ended up doing it until 2008.
I had some time off in 2008, went to the UK and France for a while and attended some wonderful car events. I still wanted to have a workshop, but did not wish to share nor get in the way of anyone whilst keeping my overheads under control. Upon my return, Phil asked if I would like to help out in his factory part time. I accepted with pleasure and worked part time as a sub-contacter to Phil but was also able to continue doing my wheel alignment work on weekends as my equipment was in use there. However I didn't have space for my own cars and projects and ended up renting the back of a friends place in Richmond whilst working at Phil's.
The service work I did there in Richmond was either for friends (I have three friends I see regularly with 308s) and also for two customers that would not deal with Phil. I was always open about this work and made no attempt to hide it. All other Ferrari work was referred, still, to Phil in Braeside directly. You may recall Aircon posting some photographs of his car being serviced by me and that is a good example of the work I performed.
Over the next few years, I worked part time at Phil's, bought and sold a few shares and liquidated almost my entire collection of vintage audio equipment that I had been collecting since the age of 13. The GFC and subsequent fall in commercial property over the following 4 years meant that my dream of having a factory of my own could now be realised after 15 years of renting.
I bought a factory in the Northern suburbs in 2012 and a further interest in another commercial property nearby 12 months later. It was indeed no secret that I wanted my own workshop. In fact, two years before I eventually left Phil's with my equipment, I was looking at a factories for sale and discussed this with him. Perhaps Phil doesn't know me as well as he thinks he does. At no stage in any of my business dealings have I ever attempted to poach or coerce any customer from ANY business, including his. Additionally, you will be aware I do not use any electronic or print media of any kind to promote or glean customers. On FerrariChat where I post pictures in fits and spurts, I never post images of my work nor do I use that forum to make any malicious nor destructive comments about another persons related business and none of you apart from 360C, Aircon and Phil even know where my business is located.
My factory allows me to devote at least one day per week to personal projects. This was not possible in any of my previous premises and was annoying not to be able to do so. Over the last year I have been able to complete a further three cars, something that would not have been possible without my own space.
Phil was extremely rude to me during a conversation about me leaving and taking my equipment to my new factory. He accused me of starting up a business to compete with him and I should "Fuck off out of his shop." I told him that I was not opening any business to compete with him and my business does not. Additionally, my business is 52 kms from his mitigating any possible geographic claims. At no stage, have I ever approached any of his customers for work, nor have I changed anything in my small cottage industry that I began in 1997.
I am a small one man operation. I have little interest in anything post 1990. This has always been my area of interest. The people who come to me actively seek me out through a referral based system that has been in place since 1997. I work slowly and methodically and take on no more than three jobs at once. I guarantee a certain number of hours per week to each project and each customer has a weekly update with extensive photographic documentation.
My first full year of working here at my factory is now up. Of the selection of Ferraris that have been through my shop, only four have been associated with Phil. One is Aircon's. Under the current understanding between Aircon and Phil, I think the chance of that car returning to Phil's care is somewhat remote. Two belong to owners whom I met many years before Phil was even in the country and who simply do not wish to deal with him. The final car was a new customer whom I understand spoke to all the Melbourne based mechanics and through a referral, ended up with me. I do not own customers and am not precious about where they go.
I am surprised at the number of cars that have come out of the woodwork in the Northern suburbs. I had no idea there were so many classics this way and this fact has kept me busier than I would have ever imagined. This I clearly underestimated. Currently I am working on two glass 308 GTBs and a Lamborghini Espada series II. Yesterday I was plotting the advance curve of a Ferrari V12 distributor that was sent to me from Sydney so my work is varied and rewarding. I still am active with the tyres and wheel alignments and that is about 20% of my work. I also have an interest in early 911s and have just rebuilt the transmission from a 911E 2.4.
I have no issue with Phil or his business. I have known him for nearly 14 years and have spent quite a bit of time with him socially. Phil is a very accomplished mechanic with a vast wealth of experience. I do have an issue however with misinformation being used as a vehicle to paint oneself in a more favourable light at the expense of another. Phil does not own me, not the AE site. My experience with people tells me that openly criticizing people or businesses publicly is more of a reflection of their own issues.
My automotive journey has been very rewarding and great fun. It hasn't all been easy but I suppose if it was, then everyone into cars would do it. I would like to thank those members who sent me a PM of support when all this silliness was brewing and I trust that the above clears the air for anyone who was wondering what was really going on.
Thank you and regards,