Shifting Gears: Crafting Car-Care Counterculture

Mark and Patty Smith, the lively, loving owners of Midas of Richmond, don’t work on Wednesdays. Instead, they wander the world in search of fresh ideas and unconventional methods for serving their community. With their fifth Midas location in the works, they’re using this opportunity to apply an accumulation of what they’ve picked up over nearly 20 years in the industry and insights from those weekly creative expeditions.

“I want people’s first impression of the new location to be: ‘Holy cow, this is cool! Oh, it’s a service center too.’” Mark explains. “If all I can offer is a superior oil change, how does that really make me different from local shops or any nearby dealership? This has to be so much more.”

For three years, Mark waited patiently for just the right property to carry out his vision. The one-story, 15,575-SF brick building located in Richmond’s Scott’s Addition neighborhood was built in 1927 as an auto body repair garage.  “I remember the first day I saw it—a façade, with a vivid front garage and architecture I love,” says Mark, whose goal is to retain and use as many of the building’s historic features as possible. The existing brick, light wells, heavy-timber wood framing, the original engine hoist and sliding steel doors all have a place in the new space.

While the foundational elements are familiar, the rest of the design is a profound departure from your average car-care shop.

A model of more
Mark’s intentions are played out in specific detail in the floor plan below; the majority of the space is dedicated to activities for customers and community service, rather than working technician areas—something you’ll be able to see for yourself when the center opens in late 2017.

The service center’s vintage vibe is the first thing customers will notice. “The design team presented all these different options, and I think where we’re heading really honors the building’s bones and story—it’s reflective of hard work and experience and the level of effort the Midas team puts into what we do,” adds Mark. Distressed metals and existing wood from the 1920s shop play a big role in defining the space’s key features including a service counter wrapped in colorful piping with a tabletop made of pressed metal shavings, a hearty library with books for all ages (that customers can take and keep) and a large gathering table. The “real bosses,” also known as the Smith’s energetic pair of golden retrievers named Dudley and Jumbo, get the best view of all the action from Mark’s glass-lined office punctuated with paint-splattered tiles in bright red, yellow and orange.

Community involvement is central to Mark’s personal and business priorities. Repurposed oil barrels will make for clever light fixtures as well as convenient donation containers for FeedMore. The space plan also includes an area for a Virginia Blood Services clinic outpost; Mark’s other Midas locations account for 2.5 percent of total blood donations for Central Virginia—and he hopes this location will introduce more people to the idea of giving (Especially when a free oil change is a part of the deal!).

And if a blood draw while they wait isn’t part of a customer’s plan, they can grab one of several rentable bikes envisioned hanging from the walls to trek around the neighborhood instead of waiting for work to be done. “Richmond’s such a bike-friendly city, and I want people to know we work on bikes too,” explains Mark. “A high-rise is going up across from the shop, there’s a Whole Foods and a bowling alley planned, and countless breweries around—there’s a lot to see and do. There’s an exciting energy in this neighborhood that I want to connect people to.”

Changing oil + people
Every Wednesday, Mark asks “what if.” He’s constantly exploring possibility. “I believe a lot can come from an unexpected oil change, or really any auto-care experience,” says Mark. “It’s an opportunity to see how anyone or anything can help others—and customers who visit the shop can opt in to create their own change and give back in their own way.” It seems fitting then that the shop’s design reflects Mark’s desire to draw people in and help them to connect to the surrounding community.