Making business work in tough times
In the tough business climate created by the current economic downturn, carving out a niche for your business that others cannot replicate can make the difference between success and shutting up shop.
One business that has laid claim successfully to its own niche market is Lichtenberg Classics, a Bray-based company specialising in the repair of classic Mercedes-Benz cars.
The business supplies a slew of services to classic Mercedes owners from chroming and diagnostics to the installation of classic radios, many of which cannot be facilitated by a more standard garage.
Lichtenberg Classics is the brainchild of Benjamin Lichtenberg, who emigrated from Germany to Ireland eight years ago. Mercedes-Benz has been in his blood since childhood, with his father also a connoisseur of classic cars.
Passion often forms the nucleus of any viable business, and Benjamin was able to translate his love of all things classic Mercedes - instilled in him during his formative years - into Lichtenberg Classics.
'My Dad had an old Stroke Eight 1972, a yellow one, diesel engine' he reminisces. 'It must have made an impression on me when I was a little guy! I always wanted to drive one of those when I was growing up. At one stage I could afford one, and restored it as well. That was it; I was hooked!'
Benjamin cut his teeth in his native Germany, serving his time in a workshop where he first honed his skills restoring classic British cars.
This period bestowed Benjamin with the extensive array of contacts needed to supply his current business with the rare parts it needs, furnishing him with an extra edge over the competition.
Having chosen classic car restoration as his career path, he identified a course right up his alley - Automotive Technology in DIT - and that helped set his sites on a move to the Emerald Isle.
In October 2005 Benjamin moved with his wife Aoife from Germany to Dublin.
He would go on to further augment his practical knowledge and first-hand experience with another course in engineering, again in DIT.
Lichtenberg Classics had humble origins back in 2006, commencing life in the garage of Benjamin's wife's grandmother while he completed his studies in DIT.
'I always had this passion for classic cars,' he says of his decision to start the business. 'I was just trying to make a business out of it here in Ireland because I thought there's a niche market here; there's not many people doing it.'
His decision to relocate to Bray came about by coincidence, upon spotting an online advertisement for a Bray-based Prestige Classic Cars, the company with whom he now shares a premises.
'I saw an ad for a classic Mercedes sale in Bray [run by] Mervyn Heatley, who has his own business, Prestige Classic Cars. I went up out of the blue one day and had a chat with him and asked him if he had a place to rent. We got along well, had similar interests. That's how I landed there.'
Benjamin insists that the success of his business has been down to the fact that he caters for a section of the market that more conventional mechanics cannot accommodate, having developed systems and modes of operation only conducive to more modern cars.
Furthermore, the specialised skills and knowledge that Benjamin has acquired over the course of his life-long passion for classic Mercedes cars guarantees that he can supply a level of service his competitors cannot better.
'There is a need for it [the business] because there are many classic Mercedes out there. If you specialise in them you know the problems that these cars have a little better than someone else and you can make a name for yourself. If you do it long enough and if you have a passion for it - and that's what you need, a passion, because sometimes you can spend longer on it than you would on a modern car.
'Modern garages, modern workshops, don't want classic cars because they sit around for a long time. You have to wait for parts; it's not in and out. It would put off many garages and mechanics that need a quick turnover of cars.'
'It [Lichtenberg Classics] started slowly because I was only doing it part-time. But it grew and grew and now I'm doing it full time. I've never had a year that was worse than the year before.'
A full list of the services that Benjamin supplies as well as classic cars available to buy through Lichtenberg Classics can be found at www.lichtenberg-classics.ie or look for Lichtenberg-Classics on Facebook.