After 20 years growing his business, Michael Nordeoff is poised to make a hard-to-ignore, barely used former auto dealership on Veterans Memorial Parkway the new headquarters of his Complete Car Care, which will then have three shops, all in Statesboro.
"Location, location, location ... People will drive a hundred miles away for a good steakhouse, but they're not going to drive a hundred miles out of the way for a good shop. ... In a business sense, location will pay for itself," Nordeoff said.
The 14,000-square-foot building on the bypass still looks new, and was purpose-built with a spacious service department. Operating briefly on the cusp of the Great Recession, this was NeSmith Select, a premium used car dealership that closed in October 2008. The building and five acres, much of it paved as a car lot, sat vacant for more than six years.
But in his biggest business investment yet, Nordeoff and another investor recently bought the place from NeSmith Chevrolet owner Martin NeSmith of Claxton. Nordeoff sees the building and site as almost ideal for his purposes.
"We call it the Taj Mahal," he said.
The new Complete Car Care on the Bypass is slated to open April 15. Meanwhile, Nordeoff is dressing it up with retro accents for what he calls an "ice cream parlor, 50s style" look. It will have neon highlights, a jukebox, and Bulloch County memorabilia. Outside, life-size tin cutouts of mid-20th century gas station attendants will be positioned to greet customers as they arrive and thank them as they drive away.
Equipment arriving this week includes nine lifts for the shop.
In addition to being the third location of Complete Car Care, the shop on the bypass will become the home of the Hertz Rent a Car franchise that has shared Complete's lot at 207 Northside Drive East for more than a year. Hertz will rent a share of the new space from Complete, and Nordeoff said he may also have office space to offer to used-car dealers.
Complete will continue to repair and service cars at the Northside Drive location, where Nordeoff has operated his shop since a 2009 move. In 2011, he also purchased Westside Automotive on West Main Street, changing the name to Westside Car Care.
"They're all car care centers because we do motors, transmissions, electrical work, front-end work, tune-ups, oil changes. ... We have a body shop, too. ... That's why it's Complete Car Care. We do it all," Nordeoff said.
But for all that, with two locations he employs 12 people. He has so far added four for the expansion, but plans to take his "A team," including some employees who have worked with him for more than 15 years, to the new shop.
Since he opened his first shop in Statesboro in January 1995, Nordeoff also has made a commitment to his chosen hometown.
"If I won the lottery tomorrow I'd still live here in Statesboro," he said.
He and his wife Sabrina, a nurse at Southeast Bulloch High School are raising a son, who is a student at Statesboro High School, and a daughter, who attends Sallie Zetterower Elementary.
In addition to a commitment to the community and its schools, Complete Car Care, Nordeoff said, has a commitment to buying through local parts stores.
"I believe that if I rotate money here in town, it benefits everybody," he said.
Through hard work
Now 43, Nordeoff has one of those self-made businessperson stories that involves working 60 and 70 hours a week from the time he was in high school. He is even, simultaneously, an immigrant and from a U.S. military family. He proudly keeps his legal permanent resident card, but became a citizen about 12 years ago.
Nordeoff's biological parents were both Germans, and he was born in Germany. But his mother met a U.S. soldier, the now-retired sergeant major whom he simply calls his father, when Nordeoff was a baby.
He grew up moving among military bases in several states and back in Germany. Nordeoff first came to the Savannah area when his father was stationed at Fort Stewart.
After his parents divorced when he was 15, and the young Nordeoff looked to working as a source of stability.
"My mentality was, at 15 years old, I prayed to God one night and said, (God), I don't care how hard I got to work, I want to be successful," Nordeoff said. "So God has blessed me. He has made me work very hard."
When he graduated from high school in 1990, Nordeoff went to work at an NAPA parts store. When he was 22, he went through the company's management program and became NAPA's youngest manager at the time.
Then a friend called him about an opportunity in Statesboro, and Nordeoff became owner of a shop near Walmart, then Castrol Car Care, in January 1995. When he moved to the current shop in 2009, he made it Complete Car Care.
His business philosophy includes paying employees well but keeping labor charges to customers low and dealing in volume, Nordeoff said. Several of his shop employees have been with the company almost as long as he has, and one who left for several years recently returned.
Complete provides a 12-month, 12,000 mile parts and labor warranty. But Nordeoff observes that the deadlines are more flexible than carmaker warranties.
"We'll call our warranty company and say, ‘Hey, man, we want to take care of this customer.' They never say no. ... The whole thing about being successful to me is repeat business," he said.
Customers such as Nordeoff's friend and fellow car enthusiast Joe Strickland are looking forward to the new shop's opening.
"It's a dream come true. ...," said Strickland, who also knew the Taj Mahal reference. "He's a great young businessman, he's got great mechanics, and I think it's a great opportunity for him and will be an asset to the community."
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.