Auto Service World
Feature   May 1, 2009   by David Halpert

CAA Expands Its Repair Operations In Ontario

The Canadian Automobile Association of South Central Ontario (CAASCO) has expanded its repair operations across Southwestern Ontario with the opening of eight new service centre facilities.

The first unveiling occurred on April 17th in Toronto after the CAA recently acquired what had previously been a Goodyear franchise location.

The service centres are fully owned by CAASCO, as distinct from the network CAA Approved facilities.

The Scarborough location is the first Car Care Centre fully owned by the CAA within Ontario. The association recently opened seven additional service centres across Southwestern Ontario, located in Peterborough, Georgetown, Listowel, Kitchener, Stratford, Waterloo, and Milton.

Except for the Peterborough location, these locations were Midas shops with expired franchise agreements owned by the Buttinger family for more than 40 years. The three shops in the Waterloo Region and the one in Guelph will continue to be owned by Gord and Paul Buttinger.

Mark Borkowski, president of Mercantile Mergers & Acquisitions Corp. in Toronto, explains some of the challenges that came with acquiring these facilities.

“I had a relationship with the CFO of CAA and was asked to help find and screen the various operations that would be suitable for CAA to acquire,” explains Borkowski. “The broad outline for the possible stores was that they be standalone operations, or a group of standalone operations that had systems in place and approachable owners. They were looking for shops that had solid, profitable management systems in place and were in strategic locations.”

Says Warren Tom, chief operating officer for CAASCO, “A number of years ago CAASCO decided that we needed to expand our core businesses. We are currently focused on roadside assistance, travel, and, of course, insurance. And we said to ourselves, ‘There’s got to be more services that our members want.’ And at the end of day we said a natural extension of our brand would be anything that’s automotive. So when you think about car ownership and the issues it would have, one of them would be what do you do with your car when it breaks down? We figured that for us, opening a car care centre that’s owned by CAASCO reflects that service quality and sense of security that consumers could bring their car to a brand that they recognize and trust.”

In addition to the Car Care Centres opening across the province, the association currently has over 240 Approved Automotive Repair Service garages (AARS) that are accredited by CAA to meet its stringent standards of quality and service. This is in addition to its 1.8 million car owner members across Southwestern Ontario.

“I think it’s about being transparent to the members,” continues Tom, “taking away that mystique about what a car is. So as we’re working under the hood we want our members to be comfortable understanding that the repairs we’re doing are the repairs needed…most people now are afraid of their cars, and they shouldn’t be.”

To kick off the opening of its Toronto location, members were presented with refreshments as well as half-hour morning workshops by one of CAA’s technical supervisors to teach motorists how to thoroughly inspect their vehicles for potential problems, in addition to how they can save money while driving.

“It’s the idea of bringing some added value to our members that you would never experience at another type of garage. It’s that experience you have as a member where you belong to an organization. So we’re extending that to our car care centres as well through these free workshops,” says Edyta Zdancewicz, media and public relations specialist for CAASCO. “There will be ongoing workshops that will happen throughout the year. We’re going to have some associated with our Autogreen Program, and further out in the fall we’re going to have some associated with our Worst Roads program as well.”

CAASCO hopes to have fifty independently owned service centres under the CAASCO brand name over the next five years.

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