The working lives John Martin and Dave Graf had before starting New German Performance are nearly as colorful as their relatively young Aberdeen, Md.-based business. High school friends, the two went their own, separate ways for years, but circled back around in 2007.
“Dave and I are high school buddies,” says Martin. “We both had a dream to start our own business, even back then, but Dave went on and worked in the car audio business right after high school. I worked as a technician. But we both had a passion for German cars and tuning, and so we started doing work on them after-hours on our own.
“But even though we both had a dream of starting our own business, we didn’t do it immediately,” he adds. “As you might imagine, there were money and maturity issues. I went on to work in Indiana in the forklift business, and eventually was in high-level management, with GM being one of my customers.”
Graf, meanwhile, realized his dream of starting his own business.
“With another friend, Dave went on to start the business,” says Martin. “They formed New German Performance in 1997. They launched in Aberdeen and grew it until 2006, when I came on board and bought the other guy out. He went on to work in other ventures and Dave and I were able to realize our dream together.
“That was in 2007,” he continues. “We then expanded and launched our (Lorton) Virginia shop and that’s where we are today. So the business has been around since 1997 and it’s always focused on German cars. We are not an ‘all makes and models’ kind of facility.”
A Special Place
That specialization is what makes New German Performance so special. The company is dedicated to its Volkswagen and Audi clientele, staying abreast of technology, of industry changes, and of its customers’ needs.
“We specialize in service and performance tuning for Volkswagen and Audi vehicles,” says Martin. “We do everything from a simple oil change all the way to a full engine conversion, including big turbo kits. And both of our facilities are full-service.
“All of our technicians go through a lot of factory training,” he adds. “A lot of them get Volkswagen and Audi factory training, and we provide formal training outside Volkswagen and Audi that specialize in the field. And a lot of our guys are ASE certified technicians.”
Such expertise has led to a wider customer base-but not too wide.
“While we do work on BMWs and Porsches,” he adds, “we try to specialize and not be one-size-fits-all. We want to give a good, honest product and good work to our customers for a fair price. We don’t need to be the biggest and the best-whatever that means-but we want to give that personal touch.
“We’ve done a lot of projects for our customers,” says Martin. “There are too many projects or cars to talk about, but there are a lot of them that we’re very proud of. A lot of our customers will only come here. That’s a hard reputation to maintain.”
New German Performance (www.ngpracing.com) also enjoys a reputation as an online dealer, which the company prides itself on.
“We’ve definitely made a name for ourselves in the German marketplace,” says Martin, “not just in our shops but through our Web store. We ship products all over the world through our Web business, and we have a line of wholesalers who buy directly from us. We’re also very proud of being an APR dealer-that’s a line of software and products for Audi and Volkswagen vehicles and we have been their number one in distribution in North America for three years running.”
It takes a strong crew to keep things running at the company’s two generous-sized and well-appointed facilities.
“Both shops average about 20 employees total,” says Martin. “The Maryland facility is about 12,000 square feet and the Virginia facility is 3,000 square feet. We have full powder-coating capability and dyno services at the Maryland shop, and we have dyno services at the Virginia facility. Both shops are fully equipped to handle any need, from top to bottom. We can handle everything out of either shop.”
Word on the Street
Like many performance outlets, New German Performance relies on positive word of mouth to build its customer base. But unlike many shops, it doesn’t stop there.
“We have a guy in New York who handles marketing and advertising,” says Martin. “He handles our Web site development, marketing, and advertising.”
The shop’s customer base has responded well to NGP’s high-profile online presence.
“We do a lot of forum-based advertising specific to our marketplace,” Martin explains. “And we do print advertising with a couple of magazines. We also advertise in the Yellow Pages, and we do some local advertising, because we are so close to so many military bases. We advertise in a couple of military directories in the Virginia, Washington D.C. and Maryland areas.”
The company also gets creative in community outreach, which helps get its word out as well.
“We do some things with community colleges and high schools to support some of their vocational programs,” says Martin, “as well as their fundraising-type of programs that come to us. We try to stay active in the community.”
That community involvement includes the company’s online community, which Martin has watched change over recent years.
“Years ago, a significant portion of business was driven through our Web store,” he says, “but competition has cut into that. There are so many little online start-ups-”one guy can get on the Internet and sling parts out of his basement. So much of that has come into the business over the years. It’s slowed down our online business a bit, but we’re still very competitive.”
The company’s expertise gives it an edge.
“There is value in 13 years of experience,” he adds, “in being able to talk to an owner, like with warranty problems-”versus placing the order online with the little guy. You sometimes don’t even know if you’re going to get product.”
The company’s online operations, however, are particularly attractive to a specific customer niche.
“We get a lot of military service business through the Internet,” says Martin. “People in the military move to a new area and find us. It’s critical to have the Internet as part of our business and the Web has a far greater reach than any print advertising I could ever do.
“I tell the Yellow Pages guy that he’s a necessary evil,” he adds. “I can’t afford to be out of it. But my demographics are a little younger than some other businesses and our clients go on smart phones or Google websites to find us.”
Once clients do find New German Performance, they may not spend as freely as in years past.
“The performance side of the business has slowed because of the economy,” says Martin. “But the marketplace has also changed. A lot of the things we used to do, we’ve outgrown. Years ago, we did very large jobs all winter long-”big turbo kits and large engine conversions. Nowadays, because of technology and how a lot of fast cars are built at the manufacturer’s level, there’s still room for us to tune, but not to the degree we once we did.
“Now, a younger guy with a used GTI knows that it’s already fast,” he continues. “He spends $1,000 and he’s picked up another 30-40 hp and made it look cool. That same guy used to spend $7,000 all winter long. That portion of the business has changed.”
Yet Martin recommends the business to those driven by automotive passion and a willingness to work hard.
“This business is hard work. It takes dedication, blood, sweat and tears. Make sure you’re in it because you have a passion for what you do, not because you want to make a fast dollar or become rich and famous,” he says. “We stay in business because we make money, but none of us are getting filthy rich.”
Still, NGP is a lifelong dream realized.