When leaving your US$500,000 car to just anyone won’t do, it’s time to call Dr. Joe
What is your background?
Joe: For many years I worked as a professional engineer designing, testing and developing cars while enjoying the global experience that comes with the car giants. I also worked in the aerospace industry. It was a truly wonderful career.
How did you become involved in the luxury automobile industry here?
J: About six years ago the luxury car market was booming and I didn’t know anybody in the business locally. I rode my motorbike all over HCMC to explore the luxury car market and sensed the need for specialist service advice and high-end tuning. Sometime later, I gathered the courage to open my first garage using my own brand name and in time clients approached me with serious problems with their luxury cars. The business grew from there with hard work and determination.
When did you first take an interest in luxury models?
J: When I was young my uncle took me cruising in his vintage cars; he had a fleet of them including Rolls Royce, Bentley, Studebaker, Cadillac and Mercedes Benz. My other uncle took me for rides in his super cars like Ferrari and Lamborghini. I watched F1 GP with my Dad since I was about five years old. The passion came early in life and I was always dreaming about how to make a car.
Is there a stand out job in your career that you will always remember? What about Vietnam? What has been a highlight since starting here?
J: I really enjoyed testing race cars at Phillip Island circuit in Australia. This was a dream job professionally and an adrenalin rush on the track while doing insane speeds with a laptop in hand. In Vietnam last year, I installed a twin turbo system on an Audi R8 and this was a technical delight and I also enjoyed doing a full body kit on a Mercedes Benz G55 for a client in Hanoi.
What is your favorite thing about your job? Is there anything else you’d rather be doing?
J: The favorite thing about my job is making my clients feel happy and seeing them come back again. I also enjoy spending time developing the professional careers of my employees; it’s all about people. And yes, I do get to drive some of the most exotic cars in the world – for test purposes of course. Otherwise I’d rather be a barista with a specialty coffee house making clients feel happy with espressos – quick smiles.
Where do you find your mechanics? Do they need any additional training?
J: I have three engineers – Dien, Bao and Cuong – who all joined my company during the early days; they were fresh and so was my company. We went through the good and bad times together and tried to respect each other along the way. Last year a young mechanic named Hai walked into my garage looking for a job and I offered him a position immediately and he turned out to be a wonderful employee. I like to give people a chance; it’s all about finding the right character and the rest will follow.
What is the competition like in Vietnam? You seem to be at the forefront of the market, do you think there will be more competition in the future?
J: The independent garage scene in Vietnam will always be competitive because it is a referral type business and clients hunt for referrals both privately and through public forums. All garage players need time in the market to establish a reputation; it’s not like the old days when big money and face can easily attract clients.
What is it about Vietnam that you enjoy living and working in the most? J: I enjoy Vietnam because it offers a street lifestyle filled with young people striving for success. It is the feeling of prosperity that I like most. How has the luxury market changed since you began?
J: In the past it was the successful businessmen playing with luxury cars and now the new, younger, richer generations that are joining in – the nouveau riche. They are well informed and these days want to enjoy the creative process of personalizing their cars. They splash the cash and want to feel special and most importantly the product must enhance their status publicly.
A different looking car does this nicely. Is there a typical client you provide service for?
J: Dr. Joe Garage offers service, repair and tuning from entry level right up to the serious level. The key point is that all my clients are looking for trust and this is the position my business strives for every day in the market. It is not necessarily a luxury experience they are seeking by way of marble floors and a clinical showroom, although they do expect to see some good equipment and luxury cars in my garage. My clients expect me to solve the most difficult technical problems which means they demand competent technical knowledge at a reasonable price.
What problems do you find at work?
J: The nouveau riche want to experience and try everything new, which means they tend to swap and change luxury cars very quickly and as a result, the service and maintenance history becomes convoluted. First time owners love the status that a luxury car brings but don’t consider the running costs and if [it becomes] too much, they will try to sell and pass it on to the next owner. Brand loyalty is hard to find in the market because clients try anything new and interestingly the multiple brand experience in itself becomes a topic of status.
Where do you think the luxury market will go in the future?
J: The luxury market is young from the perspective of service staff in retail shops, who often don’t know anything about the history of the brand and how to incorporate this into a sales experience to create brand loyalty. So I think luxury retailers will improve staff training in the future as brands become more entrenched in the market and develop a local history. From the client’s perspective, they are educated and will become more demanding for a personalized individual service. Clients will ask retailers more detailed questions about the product and service they seek, rather than just buying for status value. I am hoping Vietnam will create its own reputable luxury brands just like other Asian markets are achieving now.
Images by Nam Quan