This article originally appeared in the August 2023 issue of THE SHOP magazine.
By Maura Keller
Family businesses have long been a staple of the American economy. According to the Small Business Administration, about 90% of all U.S. companies are family-owned or controlled.
Ranging in size from small mom-and-pop shops to Fortune 500 entities, family businesses generate about half of the country’s gross national product (GNP). And many of these entities have made names for themselves in their various industries.
Among them is the Zeile family, which has owned and operated Prefix Corporation since 1979. The business continues to make an impact on the performance segment of the automotive market, as well as in other areas of the transportation industry at large.
According to Jhan Dolphin, vice president of business development, the company was originally focused on developing innovative engineering solutions for the automotive industry and other manufacturing operations.
With nearly 300 employees, it is recognized for creating some of the most technically advanced concept vehicles and prototypes in the business.
“Prefix Corp. has become a single-source American manufacturing, prototype and concept vehicle solutions provider with a robust platform of wide-ranging capabilities that support aviation, automotive, entertainment and many other industries,” Dolphin says.
The company operates two facilities in Michigan—a world-class production paint complex in Auburn Hills and a 25-plus-acre corporate headquarters campus in Rochester Hills.
Its presence at a nearby community-driven “automotive playground,” however, is what has Dolphin and the Prefix team excited these days.
AN AUTOMOTIVE HUB
As a project vehicle builder, among other things, Prefix is constantly looking for new and innovative opportunities within the automotive sector. That’s where the M1 Concourse in Pontiac, Michigan comes in.
Positioned along famous Woodward Avenue, M1 Concourse is an 87-acre auto enthusiast’s playground, featuring the world’s largest private garage community of more than 250 luxury garages, supporting businesses and a private track.
“The M1 Concourse is a hub for all things automotive,” Dolphin says. “We finally broke ground on a project that we began to develop three years ago. Our conversations about this idea with M1 started back when some of the garages were still under construction, and before the events center was built.”
Prefix officials had attended M1-related events, he notes, and we were impressed by the executive team’s dedication to building something unique.
“I was also looking to expand our marketing reach for Prefix,” Dolphin says. “So much of the interesting work we do is highly confidential; therefore, there are a lot of really cool projects we can’t even discuss.”
Being in metro Detroit has helped M1 Concourse attract industry executives and others in the automotive world as either M1 private garage owners or regular participants attending the various community events held at the facility, making it an ideal place for Prefix to promote its brand and services.
“This kind of exposure helps people to better understand who we are and the incredible work our team does every day,” Dolphin notes.
The M1 Concourse property also boasts an authentic automotive history, dating back to 1905 when the Rapid Motor Co. began constructing municipal vehicles there, and later when GMC built trucks on-site.
As Dolphin explains, today M1 features an eye-catching 40,000-square-foot plaza, a 30,000-square-foot events center and a 1.5-mile performance driving course.
The events center hosts industry gatherings, charity functions, corporate parties and other events, including the Woodward Dream Show, the American Speed Festival and monthly Cars & Coffee get-togethers that consistently attract 1,500 cars or more.
THE PREFIX FACILITY
The new Prefix facility at M1 Concourse is ideally positioned between the performance track and Woodward Avenue. Construction is completed and plans were for the new shop to open in early August.
“The building is a really cool, retro design that includes three service bays with a selection of equipment for general vehicle maintenance, a fuel station with racing fuel, and a showroom with an interesting selection of Prefix gear, safety equipment and auto-related items,” Dolphin says.
The idea is to serve as a resource for M1 community members.
“Regular maintenance of their vehicles can be completed right on-site,” Dolphin says, noting that additional services like luxury paint, engine rebuilds, interior trim work or complete resto-mods can be handled at the Prefix headquarters facility in nearby Rochester Hills.
“When considering the idea of a Prefix facility, we were particularly excited with the fact that the general public doesn’t typically have access to—or is even aware of—Prefix Corporation or their various departments,” says Tim McGrane, M1 CEO. “This partnership provides our private garage owners and special visitors to the M1 Concourse with access to the specialized services and expertise that Prefix is known for globally. This provides something very special for our clients.”
Dolphin fully expects the Prefix M1 facility to evolve over time to mirror the needs of garage owners, visitors and other auto enthusiasts.
“Now that word is starting to spread about our involvement at M1, there are already some very interesting opportunities being presented as to additional ways to use the property and benefit the local community,” Dolphin says. “We’re car guys. All the men and women at Prefix are either enthusiasts, racers or off-road enthusiasts, or spend time on the weekend wrenching on their own vehicles.”
Sunoco recently signed-on as the outlet’s performance fuel partner, offering a selection of high-octane fuels at the Prefix building. Dolphin expects more collaborations to follow.
“We are carefully reviewing each of these sponsorship opportunities (tires, brakes, electronics and others) to make sure they properly align with the overall objectives of the M1 Concourse,” he notes. “We’ve been very fortunate over the past few years to continue growing and strengthening our amazing team, adding numerous low-volume paint programs and expanding into additional markets.”
Along with automotive and aviation, the company is also involved in projects in the themed-attractions and film industries.
“This type of diversity has provided us with a very positive competitive advantage, and we are extremely excited about the future.”
Maura Keller is a freelance writer based in Minnesota. She can be reached at email@example.com.