Speedstar: Searching for Satisfaction
Albert Au wasn’t happy “just” being a mechanic. So he stuck his neck out, venturing into the wonderful world of business ownership.
It’s amazing where boredom can take you.
When he finished his apprenticeship in 1996, mechanic Albert Au took up a post doing what mechanics do: servicing brakes, replacing timing belts, rotating tires. It wasn’t long before he realized that, although he still loved cars, the work itself wasn’t sufficiently satisfying to base a career on.
“Cars in and out, every day the same thing,” he says. “I just found it boring. I was looking for a bigger challenge, something more interesting.” More exciting was the work he was doing on his own cars, prepping them for track days. In spite of his lack of a business background, he took the plunge into entrepreneurship just a few years later and opened the performance-oriented Speedstar in 1999. He soon learned how much he didn’t know.
Back to basics
“At the beginning, I really didn’t know about marketing,” he says. “I just started with what I liked, mostly Honda S2000 and Acura NSX. I was lucky I kept it alive without going bankrupt!” While he could draw from his own experience to work on the cars, conquering the business learning curve took a lot of research.
“I read a lot. I learned what items were popular, what people were looking for,” he says. “I got through some tough times by always watching the market and trying to source something new. There was a lot of supply from US manufacturers, but I found the Japanese imports more interesting. I learned there was only one importer directly from Japan at that time. I don’t speak Japanese but I worked hard to understand the business culture. My goal was to import directly.”
His research led him to the Tokyo Auto Salon, a big annual show for performance and custom parts and technology. He cultivated a relationship with Tracy Sports, an established performance parts distributor, which became his “major middle man” overseas. In 2005, he started importing directly from Japan through them.
The shop’s growing reputation led to opportunities to start importing European parts as well. “That’s now our core business. Not because I wanted to change it, necessarily, but just due to market demand.”
Speedstar, which now has a team of 10 and in 2009 moved to a new facility four times the size of the original, does most of its business performing regular maintenance and track day prep on Mercedes, BMW and Porsche cars, with a few Lamborghinis and Ferraris thrown in. They’ve also had success on the track with their Motorsport Development Division, with driver Bruno Chapinotti at the Porsche GT3 Cup.
The right equipment
As part of their commitment to excellence, Au says they have come to rely on Hunter Engineering machines at the shop. “We tried other brands, but eventually we sell them and go back to Hunter. We found their engineering and R&D to be 10 times better than other brand names on the market. They have good products, and the technical support they give lets us work with the machines perfectly.”
At the end of the day, it’s customer communication and quality he credits for his success. “Our philosophy is pay attention to the details, maintain quality control, and be consistent,” he says. “And hey, we’re still alive!”