Mercedes service at Toyota prices
Mechanic built garage for luxury car owners who want to save

Albert Mikaélian 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 Queen Victoria Day and car dealerships were closed. For most people this would have been a problem, but not for Mikaélian.

"I had my mechanic's cell-phone number," Mikaélian 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"

Mikaélian's "mechanic" is Nazareth Moumjian, owner of Centre Exclusif M.B. Inc., a five-man service station on Mountain Sights, that caters exclusively to Mercedes owners, particularly those that own older vehicles whose warranties have expired. During Moumjian's more than 20 years of running the shop, he has gotten to know many of those Mercedes owners well.

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

Mikaélian is typical of Centre Exclusif 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 seven year old vehicle.

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

Mikaélian could also surely 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," Mikaélian 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.

An Armenian Christian, Moumjian came to Canada from Lebanon in 1968 when he was just 22, and almost immediately began working in the automobile service industry. Two years later, he began a 13-year stint working at a local Mercedes dealership. There he met many clients who would later follow him when he opened his own shop.

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 who are among the best in the car industry. To compete, Moumjian takes advantage of his lower overhead, charging customers only $65 an hour for service, which is substantially less than most dealers.

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

Although Mercedes Canada spokesmen could not be reached for comment on this story, according to one industry observer, Centre Exclusif M.B. and the manufacturer have a symbiotic relationship.

"They are not really in competition at all," George Iny, president of the Automobile Protection Association said. "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 according to Iny companies like Centre Exclusif M.B. that specialize in servicing one particular manufacturer are on to a good thing.

Sidebar: Fish's take

Aaron Fish watched Centre Exclusif M.B. staff in action often during the many years while he ran Ilco-Unican/ Dominion Lock, which was located nearby. Fish was a regular customer who got to know Nazareth Moumjian both as a businessman and as a friend.

Though he is now retired and spends his time managing his investments, doing charitable work and mentoring young people, Fish's management background gives him a unique perspective on the service station'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 $105.00," Fish said. "That's a lot of money. Naz does much better than that."

But 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 the Centre Exclusif'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 learnt to drive on, said he'll remain a Centre Exclusif M.B. customer.

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

 

Photo caption: According to Nazareth Moumjian, the biggest reason that Centre Exlusif M.B. has been successful in catering to Mercedes owners is the lower rates and the personalized service they get.

Fact Box:
Company Name: Centre Exclusif M.B.
Owner: Nazareth Moumjian
Products: Services Mercedes cars
Founded: 1983
Employees: 5
Sales: Between $300,000 and $400,000
Phone #: 735-6868

peter@peterdiekmeyer.com

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