articleMercedes service at lower prices

"NOBODY TOUCHES MY CAR EXCEPT HIM"

Garage caters to luxury car owners who want to save on maintenance

Peter Diekmeyer
Special to the gazette

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Albert Mikaelian was nervous. His 1997 Mercedes E320 was running rough and he wanted to get it into the shop as soon as possible, yet it was Victoria Day and car dealerships were closed. For most people, this would have been a problem. Not for Mikaelian.

"I had my mechanic's cell phone number," Mikaelian said with a smile. "I just called him up, and he came in to open up. He didn't seem to mind that it was a holiday."

Mikaelian's "mechanic" is Nazareth Moumjian, owner of Centre Exclusif M.B. Inc., a five-man service station on Mountain Sights Ave. that caters exclusively to Mercedes Benz owners, particularly those who own older vehicles whose warranties have expired.

During Moumjian's more than 20 years of running the shop, he has got to know many of those Mercedes owners well.

"They are a special Breed. Many of them have important positions, like company president, artist, sports figures and so on," Moumjian said. "But most importantly, they love their cars, and the insist on dealing with someone who knows the product well."

Mikaelian is typical of Centre Exclusif M.B. clients. As president of Trans Canada Alarms, he can more than afford to buy a new car, but like many Mercedes owners, he refuses to part with his 7-year-old vehicle.

"It's a Mercedes," Mikaelian said, as though that explained everything. " A 7-year-old Mercedes is still a very good car."

Mikaelian can also afford to pay dealer rates to get his car serviced, but he prefers the closer contact of dealing with a small shop.

"The dealers have castle-sized showrooms, but they don't let you talk to mechanics and sometimes the instructions don't always get through," Mikaelian said.

"I like to walk into the service bay to watch what they are doing".

Moumjian has been servicing Mercedes cars almost all of his working life.

Moumjian, who is Lebanese of Armenian descent, came to Canada in 1968 at age of 22 and almost immediately began working in the automobile service industry.

Two years later, he began a 13 year stint at a local Mercedes dealership. There he met many clients who would later follow him when he opened his own shop in 1983.

One of those clients was Steve Kirman, president of Steve's Music Store, who is now one of Moumjian's biggest fans.

"There's no baloney when you deal with him," Kirman said. "He doesn't pad things, he's straight like an arrow and he gets the job done. Nobody touches my car except him."

Moumjian's biggest competition comes from Mercedes dealership mechanics. To complete, Moumjian takes advantage of his lower overhead, charging customers $65 an hour for service, substantially less than most dealers.

Moumjian's strategy seems to have paid off. Today, Centre Exclusif M.B.'s list of clients includes well-known personalities. The walls of his waiting room are papered with Gazette articles about business executives like Kirman who do not hesitate to vouch for their favourite mechanic.

Mercedes Canada spokespeople could not be reached for comment on this story. But at least one industry observer said Centre Exclusif M.B. and the manufacturer have a symbiotic relationship.

"They are not really in competition at all," said George Iny, president of the Automobile Protection Association.

"In many ways, it's not economical for Mercedes to service older models. But it's in their interest that these car owners get taken care of."

In fact, APA personnel have heard that Mercedes service staff sometimes quietly send older-model customers to Centre Exclusif M.B. That symbiosis makes Moumjian's business model especially attractive.

"The conventional gas/service station model, which is run by a mechanic, is becoming a thing of the past," Iny said. "There are few new stations opening up in suburban areas."

But Companies like Centre Exclusif M.B. that specialize in servicing one particular manufacturer are on to a good thing, Iny said.

Bumpy Road ahead?

Specialty garage faces challenges

Aaron Fish often watched Centre Exclusif M.B. staff in action during the many years he ran Ilco-Unican/Dominion Lock, located nearby.

Fish was a regular customer who go to know Nazareth Moumjian both as a businessperson and a friend.

Fish is now retired and spends his time managing his investments, doing charitable work and mentoring young people. His management background gives him a unique perspective on the service stations's operations.

According to Fish, Moumjian's best value-added offering is the close attention to detail that his mechanics pay to each vehicle.

"They know their stuff and they really care," Fish said. " They work for the client."

Centre Exclusif M.B.'s prices compare well with dealer servicing, Fish said.

"I once brought in my car to Mercedes for an oil change and they charged me $105," Fish said.

"That's a lot of money. Naz does much better than that."

Centre Exclusif M.B. charges between $39.95 and $69.96 for an oil change, depending on the model.

According to Fish, Moumjian faces several key threats down the line. These include the increasing complexity of automobile design, the extended warranties offered by dealers to keep customers coming back and Centre Exclusif M.B.'s reliance on Mercedes Canada for its parts supply.

But Fish, who owns a 2003 S500 and a 1986 Mercedes 300E, which all of his four children learned to drive on, said he'll remain a Centre Exlusif M.B. customer.

"We need people like (Moumjian)," Fish said. "As long as I have a Mercedes, I'll bring it there."