Green Drop Garage – “Eco Friendly” Innovation
Like many environmentally aware people, Farhad Ghafarzade is concerned with the problems of air pollution and diminishing fossil fuels. What sets him apart from most, however, is that he has found an innovative way to address the problem.
Before he could work on his idea, this once-aspiring molecular biologist had to overcome the challenges of finding an inexpensive place to live and a job to pay the bills. The solutions came when he bought a boat to live on, and became a brewery barkeep.
When not on the boat or at the bar, Farhad spent his spare time putting his college lab skills to use. First, he conducted experiments on converting raw vegetable oil into fuels for adjusted diesel engines. Next, he found a way to recycle engine oil into brand new oil. It required filtering the used oil and boosting it with an additive, which the recycled product did with 85 percent efficiency. About his experiments Farhad recalls with a smile, “I knew just enough to be dangerous.”
As he experimented, a commercial idea began growing in his mind. His vision was an automobile repair garage — but a very different kind of garage. Farhad wanted a place to hold a half dozen cars, a parking lot for six others, assorted tools and a team of mechanics. But not just any mechanics. He wanted skilled mechanics, of course — but skilled mechanics who would buy into Farhad’s concepts of a cleaner and sustainable future.
The first steps
In the early days of his business, Farhad recalls, “I worked as a bartender and came in at 12 o’clock,” he recalls. “I ate a meal at the brewery to get more time.” Eventually, he had saved enough money to lease a garage in Portland. In sync with his environmental concept, he named it the Green Drop Garage.
The garage needed a number of repairs, especially some insulation to make the place livable in the winter. “I lived in the shop,” Farhad says. He recalls throwing a mattress on the floor and sleeping there with his four legged friend, Muggs, a loyal 60 pound Ridgeback.
While keeping his late night job at the brewery, Farhad worked days at the garage to get it into shape. “My salary at the brewery paid for one technician,” he says with justifiable pride. As more customers discovered the Green Drop Garage he was able to hire more mechanics and technicians. Slowly, his vision for the Green Drop Garage started taking shape.
Farhad’s standards are high. “When possible,” Farhad says, “we choose local, we choose recyclable, and we choose to work with people who share our values. ”Quality is top priority. “One thing that we do all the time is to ensure that we are using the highest quality parts, fluids, and techniques available to the industry,” he says. “We won’t install an off-brand part when a name-brand is available. We don’t cut corners with cheesy fluids, and we rarely use a hammer when a wrench will do. In fact, we choose the most durable and longest-lasting parts and fluids in the shop and on your car.”
Farhad continues, “We use high-quality re-refined motor oil that takes 85 per cent less energy to produce,” he notes. “Our re-refined motor oil is certified by the American Petroleum Institute — API — and meets the same strict standards of quality and performance as oil derived directly from crude oil.” Farhad concedes, “Refined oil costs more, but it matches virgin oil in quality. Customers can decide if the want to use the new or recycled oil.”
“We also use re-refined coolants and hydraulic fluids,” he added. “We recycle everything we can, we use low-VOC chemicals, and we hang plants in the shop.”
Although the focus of his business is on reducing the amount of use of fossil fuels, Green Drop Garage will handle most any repairs. Farhad names the brands on his fingers. “Honda, Toyota, Subaru, Volkswagen, Audi and Volvo are the models we routinely see in the shop, with a sprinkle of Ford and Chevy.”
Farhad’s environmental interest goes beyond cars. For example, he rents bikes from a nearby bike shop to furnish transportation for his customers who might want to run errands while their car was being repaired. In return, the bike shop carries Green Drop information.
Providing bicycles lends itself well to his desire to reduce pollution and fossil fuels. “Other shops might loan you a car to get around while they work on your vehicle,” he notes. “Instead, we have a couple of nice bikes from Bike ‘n’ Hike, fully equipped with locks, helmets and lights, that you can use until we’re finished with your car.”
In the same vein, Farhad uses non-motorized vehicles whenever to deliver the garage’s needs. “I’m sure you’ve seen B-Line out and about in the urban core,” he says. “B-Line reduces carbon emissions and urban core congestion by replacing delivery trucks and vans with pedal-powered, electric-assist box trikes,” he said. “We’ve advertised on the outsides of the B-Line trikes, and have parts and supplies delivered to us on the inside of the trikes,” he says.
Farhad also initiated a health plan for his employees in the summer of 2012, a year before Green Drop profits stabilized. Risky? Yes. Why? “We live out our beliefs,” he says simply.
Caring for the customer
One essential way to develop customer loyalty, Farhad believes, is for them to understand the mysteries of car care. Toward that end, he created three instructive classes for his customers. His Car Care 101 class teaches customers how to change their oil, replace air filters, check their car’s vital fluids, change a flat tire, and how to give it a quick safety inspection. He warns customers to come prepared to get their hands dirty. The hour and a half class costs $20.
Car Care 102 covers the inner workings of a car’s gas engine. It explains basic tune-up procedures and acquaints students with an engine’s vital components. It covers inspection and replacement of spark plugs, distributors, drive belts, and the fuel filter. Car Care 102 also runs an hour and a half and costs $20.
Another class — Women-Only Basic Car Care — is for women who feel less than confident talking to a mechanic or who want to overcome feeling intimidated in a garage atmosphere. It covers the topics of Car Care 101 but also delves deeper into common repairs. This two hour, $20 class includes an extended question and answer session.
Farhad ensures his mechanics are not only competent, but they are also friendly and able to communicate well with his customers. “We want to share our knowledge with you in a fun, application-based, hands-on kinda’ way, he says. “Come learn about tools and techniques in a shop with a true commitment to the environment, and with people who love what they do.” Farhad believes dedicated, knowledgeable staff members who answer calls should always have time to talk to you about your car repair.
With an interest in creating community, Farhad rents out his garage for events, organizing private parties complete with food and drinks. From the start, Farhad’s business thinking has been clearly outside the oil tank.
Looking for loans
A couple years into his business Farhad knew he had made a good start, but it was time to take it up a notch.
“I knew that somewhere I would have to have access to capital,” he said. That meant talking to a bank – but which? Fortunately, the answer was not far away.
“We bank at Albina Bank,” he says. His banker referred Farhad to Terry Brandt, former Executive Director of Ascent Funding. Ascent Funding, a non-profit organization, serves as a business bank that covers businesses often overlooked by banks. Ascent Funding provides “gap financing” loans, usually $20,000 to $200,000. Large banks often consider loans less than $200,000 too small to bother with.
In addition to loans, Ascent Funding has more than two dozen business advisers who provide a tremendous support system for business owners. At no charge, Ascent Funding’s advisers providing feedback, support, accountability. Most importantly, they are dedicated to the success of each member.
The Green Drop Garage loan came through in October of 2013, and many doors began to open.
Funding for Green Drop
There is an old saying, “To make money you have to have money.” As Farhad puts it, “Loans help generate capital. The [Ascent Funding] loan has paid for itself many times over.”
But Farhad realizes there’s more to it than money. “To build a business and be profitable,” he says, “you have to do the right thing.” With his focus on reducing pollution and fossil fuels, and his attention and care for his customers, employees and the community, he seems to be doing all the right things.
Farhad reflects on how far he has come. “I’m only four years in business,” he says, amazed at his progress. What else does Farhad have on his horizons? “I keep thinking I’d get back to graduate.” Who knows? One day, in addition to being a successful business owner and environmental champion, Farhad Ghafarzade might also be one heck of a molecular biologist.